By Marian Marlowe
“It’s not about them; it’s about us.” These sentences sound like the beginning of a joke about being self-centered. I’d like to suggest, though, that they are really right on point when we think about why our community must provide services designed to assist older adults (however we may define “older adults”).
A couple of years ago at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America, I heard John Feather, the Chief Executive Officer at Grantmakers in Aging, make a presentation, which I still think about often. He pointed out that the term “silver tsunami,” which is sometimes used colloquially to describe the aging of our community, has terribly negative connotations; it’s a horrible storm, a natural disaster. Is that how we really want to think about aging?
Furthermore, Mr. Feather noted, spending for services that may particularly assist older adults is often referred to as an “expense” rather than an “investment.” It’s certainly true that, in our Jewish community, we often refer to spending that supports Jewish education or the engagement of younger generations as an “investment in our future.” Hopefully, if we spend wisely on education and engagement, we will see a good return on those investments down the road; that’s as it should be. But, spending for services that assist older adults also is an investment; it’s an investment in the type of community we want to plan for our future and in the type of community we want to live in today.
So, let’s change our language – and maybe our thinking a bit too.
When we talk about seniors, we are not talking about “them.” A conversation about the needs of seniors really should be a conversation about the type of community we want; what type of services do we want to make available? What infrastructure do we want to make sure is in place and maintained? And many of us will be “seniors” very soon. Here in New Jersey, one in five us will be at least 65 years old in 12 short years.
“Older adults” or “seniors” are not a vague, unknown group of “other people out there.” They may be our parents and neighbors today, but let’s be honest: hopefully the terms will apply to all of us someday. So let’s build the community that we want now, to ensure that it exists when we’ll need it and let’s build the community we want to live in and can be proud of today.
Consider the streets of our towns and cities. I may think that I’ll never need to drive on a particular street, but I understand that, in the spring, every street in my town needs its potholes repaired and, in the winter, its snow removed. Can I really say that a friend, a relative, or I will never need to drive on Maple Avenue? And, even if no one I know personally ever needs to take a trip down Maple Avenue, I still understand that it must be repaired and plowed. This is what responsible communities do. I want to live in a community that has a complete infrastructure of services.
Of course, as Jews, we know that our responsibilities extend far beyond providing a physical infrastructure. We are commanded to honor our fathers and mothers and told to rise before the old and to respect the elderly. The poignant psalm reminds us that, as we age, we all seek to be seen, to be remembered: “cast me not off in the time of old age; when my strength fails me, do not forsake me.” As a Jewish community, we can give practical effect to these verses; we can be the boots on the ground.
Let’s change the conversation. Older adults are not other people. And, if we invest wisely, hopefully, the dividend will be a community some of us want to live in today and others of us will want to live in in the future.
So, it really is – and should be – all about us. It’s about who we will be. It’s about who we want to be.
Marian Marlowe is Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ CARES Coordinator and Planning and Allocations Manager.