Updated: Mar 27, 2020
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
I recently had a conversation about what this verse means exactly. How do you honor an aging father that isn’t taking care of himself? How do you treat him with dignity and respect, and still make sure he is safe and well cared for. How do you allow him to be independent and make his own decisions about his future while making sure he is choosing the right path? I guess these are questions that we should ask ourselves about many of our relationships. How do we honor those around us in healthy ways?
In American society, when our parents and grandparents get to be a certain age, we act as if they have lived beyond their worth, like they have nothing of value left to give.
The eighty-year-old man who walked into the physical therapy room reminded me why I love the elderly. Their resilience, their spunk, and their wisdom blesses others. They must have something special that sustains them to a ripe old age. In Indian society, especially few live as long as this man—my patient had already outlived the average Indian man by twenty-five years.
Imagine the India of 1925, when he was born. This man from the north Indian state of Punjab has lived through the age of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Ambedkar as well as India's independence from British rule and partition. Imagine the wealth of information and experience that he has in his heart and head.
This old man had a burn on his foot that was over a year old. The infection would kill him without treatment. At first he did not want me to clean it, but tolerated the pain anyway. I carefully cleaned and dressed the deep wound. I apologized for making him hurt, rubbed his back, and told him with my eyes and tone of voice that I cared about him. I really wished I could speak his language and learn from his life experiences.
We don’t speak the same language—and yet we do. He got down on his knees and touched my feet. I had honored him by cleaning his wound. This was his way of honoring me. I wish I could have spent more time with him, hold his hand, drink some chai, watch the sunset. Instead I pray that when he walked home that night someone was waiting at home to honor him.