Each year we memorialize the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a middle-aged man who helped to lead black Americans to the most substantial civil rights gains in this country’s history. Because his portrait is paused in time, it may surprise you to know King would be 92 years old today had he not been assassinated on April 4, 1968.
He would not be an octogenarian, in the 80+ people group to which several of my close friends belong. The Baptist preacher and civil rights leader would be a nonagenarian. Their numbers are growing in the United States. By 2050, the Census Bureau projects, people 90 and over will comprise 10 percent of the population.
These people are worthy of attention this coming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday for two reasons. 1. King would be among them had he lived. 2. The federal holiday in King’s honor is a national service day in which we are encouraged to do something to better our communities.
The seniors age 90+ in our communities are in particular need of service, I believe. A majority of people 90 and over live alone in the community or in nursing homes and report having at least one physical or mental impairment. Physical problems include difficulty hearing, seeing, doing errands, preparing meals, walking, navigating stairs. Eating can be a challenge. Consider that many in this age group have no “natural” teeth.
If you’ve ever spent time in a nursing home, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, you know these often are dreary places despite the efforts of cheery activity directors and volunteers.
- Imagine nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the age of COVID quarantine and the need to isolate older adults to protect their health.
- Imagine these sometimes frail people living alone in their homes or apartments, many of them having buried all their close friends and many relatives, unable to have people near for fear it could be a death sentence.
- Imagine feeling abandoned, unable to fully understand what is happening in the world due to dementia, Alzheimer’s or some other cognitive disorder.
No need to imagine. This is the reality of people in our own suburban neighborhoods, maybe down the hall in our own building, in our own church.
Do we see them? Are they even on our radar?
Isolation is not good for people. God said of Adam, all by himself in the beautiful garden of Eden, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18(a)
The world is a dark place, especially so when we are alone and vulnerable. The world champions youth, strength, usefulness. In contrast, Christ faithfully loves His people to the end, though we may be bent, spent and have nothing to offer.
“Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4
Christ-followers are called to be the light of the world. We need no official holiday to do good. Christ has given us a mandate to “Love one another” John 13:34 and “Love your neighbor as yourself…” Mark 12:31
Our oldest neighbors especially need our loving presence and caring service at this difficult time in our world: a hot meal, a ride to the pharmacy, a phone call, a warm smile on the other side of the screen door.
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10