Honor your Elder

The German poet and philologist Karl Simrock did not only translate the Saga of the Nibelungs, but he has also left us many quotations. There is one particular quote that always calls my attention when I am moving around in the City of Frankfurt am Main.

“Honor the Elder – Be aware of the young.”

Karl Simrock

If you are over sixty, seventy or even eighty years old and are walking impaired if you move around on a stick or perhaps even worse, you are dependent on a walker – the so-called “easy walker” – then it very often happens, that you must remain standing up during a tram ride. No one moves – to offer you a seat.

An army of young people, with heavy knapsacks on their backs, fumbling at mobile phone displays, taping the screens, utterly unconcerned by what is happening around them, keep the seats occupied for themselves. Some of them look the older adult straight in the face, without the wink of an eye. Nobody gets up. An old Lady can easily faint on the floor, whose business is it?

If you look around German cities, you hardly see any relief or build in helping devices for older people. Broken escalators, overcrowded elevators that offer more space for bicycles than for people.  Standing in line, queuing in general. Barriers for physically disabled everywhere. Real disabled-accessible Cities look different than this!

Recently I went to Brazil. One day I had to run an errand in a financial institution – a bank. As so often in Germany, the first thing I saw was a long queue of people entering the vestibule. I looked around in surprise and saw only young people around me. None of them seemed to be older than fifty. Well-mannered, as I am and as I have always been for 70 years, I obediently stood in line, behind a young woman, waiting patiently until I was called to step forward and present my concern at the counter. Such is customary here in Germany.

It did not take long for the young woman standing in front of me, to turn her head with a smile, saying to me: “Voce ñao precisa fazer cola qui. Vem para frente. Tem mais de 60 anos, certo? (You don’t have to queue here, come forward. You are probably over sixty, right?”)

Now the smile on her face seemed to be embarrassed. Surprised, I looked in the direction in which the young woman pointed her finger and saw there a counter, with a bank employee in front, where nobody stood. I did as told, going directly to the teller, who already waved his hand when he saw me, and within seconds I was served. I haven’t been in the bank for five minutes and got it all done.  The thing that called most of my attention – all of this had occurred without queuing.

A week later I was in Colombia, more precisely in Bogota. You may say what you want about this city, but here too People have great respect for the elderly. Again, I went to a bank to run an errand. Still, I stood obediently in a queue of people waiting at a counter and yes, another friendly person, significantly younger than me, drew my attention to the fact that I do not have to stand in line, because I was indeed older than sixty.

Now I was convinced. An entire continent – of which many here in Germany claim that the people there are almost all poor, uneducated, morally unreliable, even lazy; incidentally, have no manners, especially no culture….. –  has presented itself to me as a place, where People have far more respect for the elderly than in the much-vaunted advanced Germany.

Just as I had finished writing these lines, my boss called me and asked me, if I wanted to accompany a Brazilian group of seniors to Heidelberg? I agreed, and two days later I traveled with the Brazilians in a comfortable Travel Coach from Frankfurt to Heidelberg, on an excursion to the world-famous Heidelberg Castle.

The day couldn’t have been better. The sun was shining, the sky was Blue, and my Brazilians had been in a good mood and full of joy during their visit. A few older ladies of my travel group had a walking disability. I took special care of them and walked intentionally slow so that the older ladies could see and hear everything I had to tell.  When we left Heidelberg Castle and went to the mountain funicular, a broader class of children – about 6 to 8 years old – stood in front of us at the entrance of the funicular, blocking the access. Patiently we stood behind the kids. Meanwhile, a great tumult arose, and I observed the two schoolteachers, in anticipation of getting ready to experience some trouble. Children are refreshing in and of themselves, and it’s fun to be in their midst, but sometimes you can feel it when a problem is in the air. I am sure dear Readers; you know what I mean!

Well, it became louder and louder and much louder, which wasn’t a big problem, because where children are, that’s just the way it is. However, when we entered the mountain funicular, a fight started over the seats. You must know that there are only a few seats in the Heidelberg mountain funicular. Some of the nimble, restless little guys pushed themselves briskly forward and sat down right in front of the elderly, walking impaired Brazilian Ladies of my Group, glued to the benches, looking the old women cheekily, almost provocatively in the face.

I had to get involved!

Calm but very determined, I ordered the boys to get up and make the benches available for the older women. I hadn’t finished when a young teacher raised her voice. She could’ve been in her mid-30s, skinny, tough look on her, pointed nose, snow-white bony chin, thin-rimmed black glasses on her nose, a little chic look. Golly for sure!

Her voice – it did not surprise me – shrieked and fit precisely to the rest of her scenery: “These children have never ridden a mountain funicular before. It is the only and first trip they’ve taken here. They were so happy to sit up front, taking the train downstairs and see everything. Why do old people always have to complain, when they see children around them?”

In a situation like this, usually, my gift of gab is quick enough to refute. However, after such bold remark from a teacher – by definition committed to decency in her role model function as an educator of adolescent young people – I had become merely speechless!

Please take some time to think… and ponder.  Please take some PonderingTime!