I closely watched Harvey and his family as they celebrated his 80th birthday. They spoke warmly of memories and sang his praises. How nice, I thought, that they, at least, recognize his worth. Harvey, though elderly and arguably past his prime, embodies an enormous wealth of tradition, strength, virtue, memory, and love. Though a quiet obscurity to many, he is a hero to me, as recounted in my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. So many in western culture write off and even ridicule the elderly, seeing only weakness and faded glory. This fact I sorely lament. We would do well to remember their strength, their sacrifice, their accomplishments, their contributions, their legacy, and their love. Rather than relegated to the “old” category, implying uselessness, they should be lifted up as timeless mentors to be followed, learned from, cared for, and revered. As you read this poem, ponder for yourself, What is the worth of an aged man and woman? I hope your answer is bounteous. Consider sharing your thoughts in a comment.
THE WORTH OF A MAN
What is the worth of a man
when his ears refuse to hear
and shrouds eclipse his sight,
when his back bends low
and his hands quiver,
when he forgets things large and small
and the young lose their scant patience
with his remembrances and his gait?
He has made whatever difference, whatever contribution,
he is going make.
If he hasn’t said it by now, it won’t be said.
So much counsel.
So much love.
So much poetry.
He is a mere memory,
and fading at that.
That is what you think.
That is what so many think.
he taught you to tame a fox and skin a weasel and splint a songbird’s wing?
he bought you a thrift store bike and taught you to fix a flat?
he slogged in from the smelter each day after dark, slimed with sweat and soot?
you took turns tossing the ball to the family mutt?
he told you how to treat a woman, with fidelity, with respect, with tenderness?
he called you a numbskull for smoking behind the barn, and stomped the butt out?
he carried you, and even sang, and even cried, when your body burned from fever?
But you do not remember.
You spurn the soul what made you.
You rush break-neck from your cradle to your own aged obsolescence.
Tomorrow, as you shuffle and stoop,
they will glance at you and ask,
What is the worth of a man?