A common comment coming from the lips of aging adults with enough boldness to speak the truth is, “I feel invisible.” In her book Voices of Aging, author Missy Buchanan presents perspectives on several key topics from the point of view of the adult child and the aging parent. One elder said, “Sometimes I feel obsolete. Unnecessary. Irrelevant. Like a carton of milk whose expiration date is long past.” Another aging parent said, “I remember sitting in my room while my children talked about me as if I weren’t even there.”
No one should feel so invisible. If we take the time to look into the eyes of older people, and truly listen to what they say, it’s possible to see both who they were, and who they still are.
“Don’t judge my story by the chapter you walked in on,” reads a poignant anonymous quote. But isn’t that what we do? If we meet someone for the first time at the end of their lives, don’t we too often forget that this is simply one chapter? Would we want those who meet us later in life to make that same error in judgment?
This week I will add another assisted living Bible study class to my schedule. I sought a location close to our new home so it will be easy for me to visit there during inclement weather. I felt the Lord leading me to the place I selected, but when I met with the activities director there I learned that 90% of the residents have dementia. Will they still have moments of clarity when they can hear the truth of the gospel presented in the lessons in The Hope of Glory? Will the old hymns stimulate their long-term memories and put a smile on their faces? I pray so. But if not, the homemade cookies and hugs I offer will have to be enough of a reason to show up.
Most important, as I look forward to meeting these dear old souls, I pray I’ll be able to see who they were at a younger age, and who they authentically are today. I want to know about the earlier chapters of their no doubt fascinating lives, and appreciate the totality of the lives they have lived. I don’t want them to say, like another older person in Buchanan’s book, “My life is a library filled with books that no one reads anymore—books of adventure and romance, advice and how-tos.” As I get to know them, I hope to explore all the volumes of their lives.
Even people in their sixties, those categorized as “young seniors” but on the far side of “prime,” can feel invisible at times. Meeting the residents in the patio home community to which we moved this past summer, I sometimes think quietly to myself, “I sure wish I’d known you sooner.” And I wouldn’t be surprised if those who met me for the first time thought the same thing.
Recently we had a social gathering in our community and as I met each 60-plus person I couldn’t help but surmise: He must have been an effective CEO before he retired. She was obviously a beauty queen or a cheerleader. He was probably an excellent athlete earlier. She has no doubt been a patron of the arts her whole life. That couple must have always been partiers! Seeing them as they are now provided me with plenty of clues to the earlier chapters in their lives, and I’m looking forward to getting to know more about each person here. None will be invisible to me.
From the youngest to the oldest, we can all feel invisible at times. Yet we are never invisible in God’s eyes. He always sees us as we are and wherever we are, and only He sees who we ultimately will be when all the trappings of this earth fall away. Invisible? Not on His watch.