I visited a zoo this summer that sits on 190 acres of parkland and is home to 2, 200 animals, representing 300 species. And while, lions, bears, gorillas, zebras, camels and elephants…you know, the big guys…typically feature long line ups, on the day we were at the Milwaukee County Zoo it was a newborn that was capturing most of the attention.
The day before our visit, a giraffe named Asante was born. A neonatal checkup indicated he weighed 168 pounds and stood 5'1'' tall. He was born at 12:20, standing at 1:05 and nursing at 1:40.
The next day a large crowd seemed to always be present as visitors tried to get a good look at the new giraffe. He was adorable. But then, little ones usually are, aren't they?
I am not a cat person but I think kittens are absolutely precious. Puppies? What can be cuter than watching one learning to navigate its world? Bunnies. Ponies. Cubs. So cute. Baby animals bring a smile to our face as we notice their little features and find laughter in their antics.
Consider how we respond when a baby…of the human variety…is brought into a room. All eyes move toward the child followed quickly by outstretched arms to get in some cuddle time. There's just something about holding a baby that makes you feel good inside. Contented. That all is right with the world.
Babies are precious. They bring out our best instincts of protectiveness, gentleness, care and nurture. We speak kindly and in soft tones when we hold a baby. We know we are embracing something very precious—someone to be cherished. It doesn't matter if we know the baby or not. A baby, by its mere presence, brings it out in us.
Wouldn't it be great if we continued to treat that child the same way throughout their entire life? Imagine that little one being greeted with grins, oohs and aahs all along in life. But of course, that's not the case. As we grow we take on more of our own care and protection and then assume roles of caregiver and protector of others. But think of what happens when someone has fulfilled many of those roles and then are not given due consideration—or worse, get neglected or outright ignored by too many. The group some of us aren’t paying close enough attention to? Our seniors.
At a time when our elders crave our conversation and companionship, too often we don’t show proper interest in them. While we drop everything to interact with a baby, too few of us make interacting with seniors any sort of priority.
I used to arrange a weekly children’s story time. I had no trouble putting together a schedule of people willing to come in each week and read to children. Everyone I talked to said yes. But a friend of mine had a vastly different experience trying to arrange volunteers to come and read to residents in long term care. While young ones bring out our enthusiasm, our seniors don’t get our same eagerness.
Take a look at our parks, facilities, organizations, churches, schools and hospitals. We have what we have because of those who came before us. What they poured into our communities is enough reason for us to ensure we make the effort to be a presence in their lives now. But it’s about more than gratitude for what they’ve done. We need to show appreciation not for who they were…but who they are.
October 1 is International Day of Older Persons, which coincides in Canada with National Seniors Day, an occasion to celebrate the contributions of seniors in every corner of our country. They were and are, friends, coaches, leaders, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, colleagues, volunteers, visionaries and on it goes. Taking a moment to say thank you is great, but taking an interest in them (remembering they took an interest in us) is so much better.
Make some phone calls and check in with a senior. Send cards. Put on the coffee and invite someone for conversation. Visit a senior’s center or residence and spend time sharing stories. Ask questions. Soak in the wisdom. Show an interest in all they have achieved. Let them celebrate with you as they affirm your achievements.
We need to cherish seniors the same way we cherish babies. Better yet, we need to value all those we share this life with, regardless of what stage any of us are at. That baby grows up, but it never grows out of the need for love and care. Every individual is better off if someone’s eyes light up when they walk into a room. That’s my outlook.