June 2015

Service through the Ages


A hearty, enthused group of people from across SW Ontario gathered in my home last weekend. Meeting for the 3rd time to explore the concept of “Service in Our Senior Years.” what we have in common is more than just our age (late-50s to mid-80s). Rather, it is our desire to serve others by sharing what we have learned over the years. To express this goal, the group has dubbed itself “Elders” rather than “Seniors,” thus encompassing the idea of collective wisdom and respect.

In the Baha’i Faith, service to others is the highest ideal. Abdul-Baha, whose name translates to “servant of Baha” (followers of Baha’u’llah), dedicated himself to helping all people. With stories about his life literally filling books, this one line offers a summary of his approach and advice: “Help to make them feel at home; ask if you may render them any service; try to make their lives a little happier.”

As host I frequently left the room for practical matters. I welcomed arrivals, found needed items, made coffee, stored and later served food, and did other such tasks. When small groups formed for discussions, I flitted among them rather than settling into one. In essence, my role was as “servant of the servants.” Happy to be seeing to their needs, I benefitted from their ideas even as I enabled them to participate as fully and as comfortably as possible.

These words by Abdul-Baha help to connect ageing and the rewards of serving others: "May joy be increased to you as the years go by, and may you become thriving trees bearing delicious and fragrant fruits which are the blessings in the path of service."

Although we elders are not motivated merely by benefits for ourselves, we do recognize the connection. More importantly though, we believe we can help by mentoring youth, working as equal partners with younger adults, leveraging our own time (many are freed from full-time job requirements), and being involved in worthy projects. As writers, artists, musicians, home builders, community workers, social activists, business folk, engineers, teachers, sportsmen, pilots, health professionals (and the list goes on), our desire is to give back what our lives have given us: experience, insights and hopefully even wisdom.

In doing so, we want to make others’ lives happier, whether it be within our own neighborhoods or across the planet. Unfortunately this can be challenging in the increasingly youth-centered culture. Some say that older people should admit we have had our turn and now it is up to younger people to improve the world. Others claim that our role is to support youth through practical favors such as offering them rides to events, helping to pay expenses or preparing food for their own gatherings. And while these tasks are useful, as elders we also seek relevance through activities such as mentoring, serving on boards, event planning, entertaining, coaching and inclusion in decision making.

Being older doesn’t mean being obsolete or invisible. Rather it means having skills and insights to share and time to give. As one recent retiree put it, she is now “redirected.” With that direction facing outward rather than inward, there are few limits to what we can achieve.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2015