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The value of elderly people’s existence

On the occasion of World Day for Grandparents and Elderly on July 23, let us not take an irreverent attitude towards them

Elderly people in traditional costumes are honored with gifts and lion dances at My Chanh Church in Vietnam on Jan. 21, 2023

Elderly people in traditional costumes are honored with gifts and lion dances at My Chanh Church in Vietnam on Jan. 21, 2023. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: July 14, 2023 03:22 AM GMT

Updated: July 14, 2023 04:05 AM GMT

Last year, I joined local Caritas workers in paying a home visit to a 98-year-old woman who startled me by saying, “Father, I don't know what cardinal sin I have committed that makes God let me live so long."

People all around the world wish themselves longevity, but why did this elderly woman express such a gloomy thought?

Her statement also made me question whether those who live long are receiving a blessing or a punishment from God.

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She was born and brought up in a rural area. Her parents died early, so she lived with her elder brother and a younger sister.

Her brother, who married and had only one son, died when the son was just four months old. His wife also passed away a few years later.

She remained unmarried all her life and worked hard to bring up her orphaned nephew, who later had a large family. They enjoyed a good quality of life.

The woman had no biological children. So, her relationships with other family members seemed difficult to deepen. 

Was that what made her not want to live longer?

I offered her a sum of money in an envelope while she was lying in a hammock in a small room.

I asked, "If you live two more years, how old will you be?"

"Father, one hundred," she immediately replied.

I continued: “How, if you live three more years?”

She hesitated for a moment, then said, "One hundred and one years old."

“If you live four more years?” I asked. 

She said, "Oh come on, Father, I don't want to live that long. I just pray to God every day to take me away soon.”

I saw that even though her health had deteriorated, her head was still perfectly clear. Perhaps because of her sanity, she wished to return to God sooner.

Contemplating what she said, I realized it carries considerable weight. It is not a theory but from her life experience. I often repeat the saying, đa thọ tắc đa nhục, meaning that "the longer you live, the more shame you feel."

It must also be because the longer we live the more badly our health deteriorates. We find it difficult to talk, walk, eat, sleep, and do other activities.

The old woman was bed-ridden, unable to walk on her own and take care of herself. She had to completely depend on other people for her survival. She felt time go by heavily.

As we remain physically and mentally active, we see time pass so fast. But when we are too weak to work, we find time elapses slowly. 

It is said that those who spend a sleepless night know how long the night is.

I ask some people what is the greatest fear the elderly have and no one answers correctly. My answer is time.

In the morning, they look forward to the afternoon, in the afternoon they look forward to the evening, and at night they look forward to daybreak. 

Just like that, they are trapped in this vicious circle.

A teacher told me about his father, a 86-year-old man, who has had a third stroke but is only too eager to live.

The old man refuses to accept the painful reality and keeps requesting his children take him to hospitals for medical treatment.

"I wish only one thing that if only my father had faith in God and understood the meaning of life, he would have been less demanding. He would find inner peace and happiness to live for the rest of his life," the teacher said.

The sad story gives me a different perspective on life. One thing is for sure — we have no right to demand a long life.

There are people who intend to end their own lives prematurely. That is their choice.

However, whether it is normal to live long or die young is God's will. Those who are old and sick remain living, while young healthy people meet with terrible accidents and depart this life.

The important issue is what we should do in order to add true value to our lives. We often judge people by their material contributions, such as how much money they earn or what they do for the community. Very few judge other people from the value of their existence.

Wouldn't a peaceful existence be more beneficial than material products?

If we know how to return to ourselves and have optimistic views and attitudes, we will see how much life in this world is well worth living. As we have inner peace and happiness, even though old age or illness strikes us, we still feel calm and at peace. 

But when our soul is filled with frustrated ambitions, no matter how long or short our life is, we are still down in the dumps.

There are people who have gone through most of their life and have not drawn the lessons of life yet. There are also those who are still young who quite understand the meaning of life.

The elderly woman mentioned above died recently. She died at the ripe old age of 99 and was perfectly contented. 

I share her words with everyone to ponder on life when we celebrate World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly on July 23.

We should love and respect the sick and the elderly and should not complain or show an irreverent attitude toward them. Let's also help one another to change our thoughts to have a broader outlook on life.

The value of human existence is always much greater than material value. Never look down on anyone, even if he or she just sits still doing nothing as they are keeping this world alive.

Father Joseph Ta Xuan Hoa is from Hanoi Archdiocese in Vietnam. This article was summarized and translated by a UCA News reporter from a Vietnamese article published at tonggiaophanhanoi.org. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.


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