By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published August 4, 2016
Welcome to the first edition of The Senior Side, a column I’m writing that will be devoted to the issues and needs of seniors in the Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. I’m a senior myself. The purpose of The Senior Side is to provide a dynamic forum for all seniors to express the senior point of view on issues impacting us within society and the church.
What’s a senior?
Let’s start by exploring what I mean by “senior.” One possible description is that seniors may be the last generation that still depends on print newspapers for the news. Another is that seniors are the ones who are still trying to figure out how to use all the things that our smartphones are capable of doing. A senior is someone who remembers what it was like to be drafted into the military, what the world was like before television and computers, and when you could buy a home for less than $50,000 and a brand-new car for less than $5,000. These are the stories and memories with which we regale our grandchildren.
Officially—and this may be upsetting to some of you—the government classifies seniors as anyone age 55 or over. Some of us are children of parents from the Greatest Generation in post-World War II. Some younger seniors are baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964.
We seniors are the largest and most rapidly growing segment of the global population. In the U.S., there are about 80 million of us—about 26 percent of the total population. This figure is expected to grow steadily over the next two decades as 76 million additional baby boomers enter their retirement years.
In short, we seniors are a force to be recognized.
Interesting issues and challenges
I learned a lot about seniors while doing research to write a book on retirement planning called “Retirement Renaissance.” I wrote the book because just about every book on retirement planning focused on financial planning.
Financial planning is vital, but I found out early in retirement that there is much more to retirement planning than getting your financial house in order. My research revealed some interesting issues facing seniors.
First, we seniors are a somewhat overlooked segment of the population. Although we have the bulk of the experience and wisdom and control the greater percentage of the financial assets in the economy, we tend to be routinely overlooked as being “too old” or “out of touch” or “irrelevant,” including sometimes within our own families and parishes.
Second, the retirement experience is not a rose garden for everyone. Many seniors experience a type of depression that is triggered by the loss of identity and self-worth after retiring. During our careers, we become known for what we do. We gain self-esteem and self-worth from our job and reputation. When we retire, we leave behind our identity and self-worth. If we fail to replace these needs with something equally gratifying, we may experience depression.
At a time when we thought we would be our happiest, some of us are the opposite. What better way is there to eliminate this condition than to find something to do that makes use of your experience and wisdom? That’s how I came to work for the archdiocese. As a senior member of our community, I left retirement to create a professional development program within the Office of Formation and Discipleship to help enhance the personal and professional skills of our parish leaders and catechists.
Third, the combined amount of wisdom and experience that we seniors carry around represents perhaps the largest single asset in the world, but I believe it is underutilized. Some cultures value the experience and wisdom of elders, although many in our country tend to think of seniors as being over the hill when in reality there probably isn’t a problem that we could not solve with our collective resources, if given the opportunity.
Next, I’ve noticed the only ministries in our parishes for seniors tend to be based on social activities. There just aren’t any senior-focused faith formation programs. Yet many seniors need spiritual help to better understand and cope with the new challenges we face in our retirement years.
We seniors have a great deal to contribute to our community and church, especially now that the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan is being implemented. We are the primary segment in our parish communities who have the time, talent and treasure to help transform our church.
My grandfather expressed the senior advantage best when he said, “You can be very smart when you are young, but you can’t be wise. Wisdom comes from the blending of age and experience over a long period of time.”
We seniors have a lot of wisdom and experience that could be used to help create a better and more God-pleasing world.
If any of these thoughts ring a bell, or if you have topics to discuss or comments to share, please drop a note to Bill Clarke at email@example.com.