April 27th, 2021 | Company News
We’re all Older Americans. We’re older than we were when we started this sentence. So, why and when did this become a name for one part of our American population? The National Month began when President Kennedy designated May as Senior Citizens Month. We needed to draw attention to the contribution of Americans who had come before the rest of us. A few of us remember: It wasn’t so hot getting old in the old days. A third of older Americans lived in poverty, and there were few places where a senior with age-related health issues could live with independence, dignity, and purpose. A month to remind us every year has helped to change that. It's caused us all to add an extra level of respect toward older Americans.
The Administration for Community Living (ACL, acl.gov) is the official government agency that supports older adults and people of every age with disabilities to live in and contribute to their communities. The ACL leads our nation’s observance of Older Americans Month this May. The theme for 2021 is "Communities of Strength." This month, we’ll celebrate the strength of older adults and the Aging Network, a national network of federal, state, and local agencies to plan and provide services that help older adults to live independently in their homes and communities.
In 1963, when the young President spoke, Older Americans were those who had steered us through World War I and survived a flu epidemic that decimated populations. Today, the Greatest Generation transitions to the grown-up post-war babies we call the Boomers. One would think generations are only recognized by wars or by the greatest struggle they overcame in their collective American life. But, really, how often do we think, “There goes a member of the Greatest Generation,” or introduce our parents and grandparents, "This is Jack, a survivor of the Vietnam Era”?
We don’t. We instead value their character, ethics, kindness to others, and their sense of humor – not to mention their manners. Older Americans month is to say, yes, we value them, why not honor them? The idea of President Kennedy and every President since has been that honoring means more than setting aside a month and asking we send a card. We should not limit the appreciation of older Americans to one month on the calendar. But it's good for us to stop, all of us together, and spend some time agreeing on something we all have in common – getting older.
How will you observe the month? Just observe the person. It doesn't take a parade—just a visit. And a question: “Will you tell me what it’s like to be you? Not way back then. Today.”
None of us should lament our age. Some feel like we're just getting started, even though we may have a whole career behind us. What matters is today's challenge. Have we stopped thirsting for knowledge? Have we stopped loving and learning? No, no matter our age. You, whatever your age, are the next Older American. What do you want your kids and their kids to remember? If you think things were better Back in the Day, what was so much better about it? Probably that older adults had more respect, that people paid more attention to them. But wasn’t it also that you could delight in every little new thing that came along? Older Americans, you were the Discoverers then. Just as your juniors are now. You can relate to that. They can relate to you.
And, younger Americans, the older Americans in your life have all of that to offer. You watch movies all the time that take you back to earlier times – and you’re fascinated by them. Well, here’s the real-life version, right in the room with you. That’s not the kind of story where you say, “Yeah, I think you’ve told me that one.” That’s when you say, “Then what happened?” And you write it down. You’ll be proud to know it and repeat it.
What a gift it is for someone to hear, “Will you teach me how to do that?” And you, Older Americans, who’s to say this isn’t your month to shine? Maybe this month has been set aside for you to show us what you’ve got. Teach us that tango step. Better yet, show us how to live in the day. Show us how, when your loved ones are who-knows-where in harm’s way, you keep happy. Show us how, when disappointment wants to crush you, you move on. Show us how, when given a chance, we become better people. We need you for that. We always have.
Look for ways to celebrate Older Americans for National Older Americans Month – and every month – at the Administration for Community Living OAM webpage.