Honoring the “Wisdom of the Ages”

May 15, 2013

Larry Minnix, CEO of LeadingAge, a not-for-profit aging services organization, reminded me in an email last week that May is Older Americans month. Before you say “Geez, they’ve got a month for everything now!” let me say “no disagreement here,” but that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t create a special moment out of our busy lives this month to celebrate mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, fellow industry members, who fit the bill (they’re Older Americans) and deserve our attention. Though I’m not there yet myself, trust me I see every day here on our Wasserman Campus in Woodland Hills what it’s like to be an Older American; it ain’t easy, and if you’re not there yet, you will be some day so pay heed.

In his email, Larry included a few quotations about the “wisdom of the ages” and I’ve used a few of them here and added a few of my own – all with some commentary.

“Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years” (Genesis 25). Isn’t that what we’d all like for ourselves and our loved ones? To die in a “good old age” and “full of years”? Wow, doesn’t that sound great! But today it is truly rare, I think. Dying in a “good old age” has been replaced with life-prolonging technologies and a true fear of death. And if we are “full of years,” that is full of the wisdom that comes with hard-won experience, is there anyone there to listen or care? Are we headed in the right direction with this?

“The truth is I’m getting old, I said. We already are old, she said with a sigh. What happens is that you don’t feel it on the inside, but from the outside everybody can see it.” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores) Don’t get stuck on the title of the book. How many of us look at ourselves in the mirror in disbelief and say “but I still feel like I’m 40”? (Or 50 or 60?) We’re not, but isn’t it a glorious feeling? And let’s hope that we can continue to live with the wisdom of being older coupled with the vitality of our youth.

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
I know what you mean,” said the little old man.”
(Shel Silverstein, The Little Boy and the Old Man)

Shel Silverstein was a favorite of my reading time with my kids and he’s always full of elemental wisdom. Social isolation, that’s the term we have for it now, is probably the most daunting challenge for the elderly in our society. Left unaddressed, it’s the source of so many bad physical, social, and mental health effects. We all have the opportunity in our lives to reach out to an Older American – a family member, a neighbor, an old colleague from work, a crew member we worked with on a series or a film 15 years ago, and pull them out of that isolation for an hour or two a week. Is there a better way of spending your time? Wouldn’t we want this for ourselves as well? There are plenty of volunteer opportunities at MPTF, on campus and in the community, for you to feel the warmth not only of a “wrinkled old hand” but of a grateful heart as well.

“The smoldering embers of a fiery youth.” Larry saw this on the T-shirt of a very old man marching down the concourse at a major airport. I love it! This reminds me that we are at the very cusp of the Baby Boomer generation turning 65, the generation whose early lives were shaped by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, the Vietnam War, Earth Day, Women’s Liberation. We estimate that 75,000 Baby Boomer entertainment industry members will cross the threshold of 65 before 2020. We lived through much “hotter” days back then, I think, and hopefully we still have that fire in our bellies today as we face some of life’s biggest challenges. Part of what we learned in our youth was the power of community, of people banding together toward a single purpose. Let’s not lose that sense of community as we grow older! If you’re reading this blog, at least one important community for you is MPTF and members of the entertainment industry. Let’s all pull together for our common good.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” (Robert Frost) And so it does. And what will we make out of it? That’s the question we all have to ask ourselves. We have the opportunity to do good, to support those who need our help, to enrich our own lives by sharing it with others. In that inexorable march to our own old age, what can we be doing to heighten and enhance the lives of others beyond “it goes on”? We hear from so many of our MPTF volunteers that they get more out of their volunteer work than the time they put in could ever measure. We can do better than “it goes on.”

“Cast me not off in the time of my old age. Forsake me not when my strength faileth.” (Psalms 71:9) This is our moral obligation. We cannot neglect or ignore the Older Americans, or in our more narrow situation the Older Entertainment Industry Members. We cannot neglect or ignore the frail and vulnerable entertainment industry seniors who were at the center of our community in their time. They sustained the industry, left it better and bigger than when they found it, and made it possible for all of us to get our own opportunities. It is our responsibility to be there for them now. This is at least in part what MPTF is all about!

About Bob Beitcher

Bob Beitcher is the President and CEO of the Motion Picture & Television Fund. He has been a senior executive in the entertainment industry for 30 years, having held leadership roles at Jim Henson Productions, Paramount Pictures, Panavision and MacAndrews & Forbes Media Group. Bob has been an MPTF board member since 2007. He became interim CEO in 2010 and was named permanent CEO in 2011.

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