Sunday, May 6, 2012


Affirmation:  I expect to be treated the way I treat others.

While traveling through Ecuador I observed a family on the side walk.  There appeared to be two couples one much older than the other.  The eldest woman was in a wheelchair and the younger woman kept reaching out to hug the older woman and pat her head and give her a kiss periodically.  The traffic in Ecuador is horrific, worse than any city I have ever visited or lived in and I was born in New York City where the Long Island Expressway was referred to as "the world's largest parking lot." Because we were stopped for so long, I had the opportunity to watch this family for several minutes and I was quite taken with the love and kindness they were showing to the elderly woman. 

Life in Ecuador for the elderly appears to be much different from what I've seen and experienced in the United States.  Life for most families revolves around the whole family.  Many homes consist of residents who are multi-generational.  My husband's family was like that when he was a very young boy.  He comes from an Italian background and tells stories about the large gatherings they had at least once a week and for all the holidays.  When his maternal grandmother was 42 her husband died leaving her with 11 children, her mother and her father-in-law all living in the same house.   My mother-in-law tells how the older children stepped in to help the family.  They lived in an area that had a huge mafia influence but the children in her family never became connected to that world.  The older brothers kept a very close eye on them and on her.  When the children were grown, her mother never lived alone.  One son and one daughter dedicated their lives to her care.

I know there are many subcultures in the US where this kind of "village approach" is still in existence.  Several years ago I was lucky enough to do a yoga presentation to a hospital that served a huge minority population.  The day was designated as a "spa day" for breast cancer survivors.  One of the young women I found myself chatting with had taken the day off from work to accompany her mom to the event.  When I commented on how nice that was of her, she stopped me dead.  "All my life my mom has cared for me.  It has been my dream to be able to care for her one day and now I can.  We live together and she helps me with my children and I would do anything for her."

I love my mother and I love my mother-in-law.  I love my children and love my grandchildren and we spend a lot of time together.  But, we don't live together.  Truth to tell, it's not part of our culture.  Somewhere along the way, we changed that.  I think our family still forms "a village" but it's more of a virtual village. 

One of my favorite shows ever was The Golden Girls.  Do you remember the jingle, "Thank you for being my friend."?  The Golden Girls was an American sitcom created by Susan Harris, which originally aired on NBC from September 14, 1985, to May 9, 1992. Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, the show centers on four older women sharing a home in Miami, Florida.  The Golden Girls won several awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series twice. It also won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series Musical or Comedy.  All four stars each received an Emmy Award throughout the series' run and had multiple nominations. The series also ranked among the top ten highest-rated programs for six out of its seven seasons. (

I must admit to this day when I hear that jingle I tear up.  I know it wasn't a real life situation.  In my mind it represented an ideal.  Four very different women sharing their lives:  their dreams, their challenges, their stories and their flaws.  Over the years they went through every type of situation imaginable.  They laughed, cried, argued, hugged and loved.  I know there have been many other sitcoms that have stirred the emotions of many of us.  Fictional people who seemed to become our family.  This, for me, was a prime example.  I wanted to tell them if the day ever came when I was left alone, I planned on moving in. 

After having the opportunity to spend an extended period of time with my daughter-in-law's mother (three weeks), I think if I find myself alone, I would thrive in such an environment.   When my son's in-laws first came to visit they stayed for three months.  I was quite concerned about how stressful that might be.  I had always been told company and fish had the same shelf life.  At the time, my son and his wife lived in a one bedroom apartment and the parents were not renting a car.  I am pleased to tell you that not only was my daughter-in-law sad to see her parents leave but my son was sad.

In the United States today a relative who is visiting is restricted to three months.  I've spoken with many people whose relatives visit from other countries.  When they come, if possible, they come for the whole three months.  Interestingly enough I've never heard anyone complain.  I can tell some are not too fond of the extended visit but it is not part of their culture to complain about or criticize their family.

My husband and I have had several opportunities to go to The John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC.  It is a school dedicated to creating community through crafts.  It's over 75 years old.  It's such a treat to be there.  Every aspect from Morning Song to family style eating is about community.  Many of the teachers are octogenarians and older.  It's one of the few places I have been in the United States where the wisdom of the aged is honored.

Whether there's wisdom or not, it's awe inspiring for me to see how some cultures respect and honor the generations before them. I think many in the US feel the senior citizen is a bother and a nuisance.  For me I want what Aretha sings about "R E S P E C T." That's what I want and if that's what I want, it's what I need to give.
There's the story about the indigent farmer who has made a box for his elderly father.  He encourages his father to get in the box and then quickly closes the top.  He begins to push it towards the cliff.  He's had it!  He's finished!  Then, he hears knocking from inside the box.  "What! What do you want old man?" His father says, "Son, let me out.  You can just carry me to the cliff.  Your son will need this box for you."

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