Until two days ago, I had never heard of Older Americans Month. I stumbled across a reference to this celebration online and it begins today.
When President Kennedy proclaimed May for older folks in April of 1963, it was called Senior Citizens Month. President Carter changed the name in 1980. According to the Administration on Aging, which oversees this salute to older folks, this is the purpose of the holiday:
“Historically, Older Americans Month has been a time to acknowledge the contributions of past and current older persons to our country, in particular those who defended our country.”
This conflicts a bit with the whip-cracking admonitions of the announcement on the same Website of this year’s theme – “Aging Well, Living Well:”
“In addition to achieving a healthier lifestyle, older persons must also take steps to prepare for later life. These steps include understanding housing and long-term care options; gaining financial literacy and knowledge of retirement pension and benefits; and seeking opportunities for community participation and social engagement, including access to employment, volunteer, educational and leisure activities.”
Nothing wrong with any of those ideas, but the tone of condescension and reproval is out of place for the purpose of the month as quoted above. Imagine going to a kid's birthday party and reminding her to pick up her toys, be nice to her little brother and eat her broccoli.
Last year, the president, in his proclamation for the month, spent a large majority of the available space commending the federal government for what it has done for older folks instead of what older folks have contributed to America.
I have no desire to take on the federal government on their shift of topic from older folks themselves to the administration’s so-called achievements for older folks, particularly when it is unlikely to make much of a dent in the public consciousness anyway given that Older Americans Month shares its recognition with 51 other month designations for May including National Barbecue Month, National Egg Month and National Salsa Month.
But it might be a good opportunity for individuals to take the month's name literally and get to know some older folks. American culture goes to great lengths to remove any reminders of aging from the view of younger people which makes older ones invisible much of the time. But if you look carefully, we’re there, right beside you in line at the grocery store, movie theater and Starbucks.
So take an older person to lunch this month. Go out and talk to someone older that you. Find out what you have in common – there is more than you might think. Help make Older Americans Month not about the Bush administration’s bogus back-patting, but about older Americans themselves – as President Kennedy intended.