May is Mother’s Day. It is high school and college graduations, Memorial Day weekend barbecues and beach trips , and the anticipation of summer’s more languid pace.
May is also Older Americans Month, a designation established in 1963 after a meeting between then President John F. Kennedy and the National Council of Senior Citizens, to recognize the contributions of older persons in the United States, particularly those who had served in the American military.
I’d never heard of Older Americans Month, until this past week — and I’m guessing that you might not have either. Which is itself a sort of commentary on how we value — or do not — the elderly members of our society. How we fail to see their contributions and gifts, their sacrifices and wisdom and great love for us. Their perseverance and resilience, their complexity of being and of experience, and their mightily enduring faith.
In this particular May — in this year of the Great Pandemic — our failure to recognize the value and beauty of our older ones is most troubling. As of this morning, nearly 75,000 people in the United States have died of Covid-19, and 80 percent of those lost were over the age of 65. Among them was the iconic, beloved seventy-three-year-old American folk singer John Prine, who in his song “Hello in There” wrote:
“You know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there, hello’
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, ‘Hello in there, hello'”
At this moment of profound loss of our elderly, in this month in which we are called to recognize, honor, and hold them up, let us each take the time to find our own particular way of saying to them, “Hello in there. I see you. Always.”