This week I took my middle school choir to sing at a retirement home. Having learned from past experience, I prepped them before we went, reminding them that nobody is born with white hair and wrinkles and walking with a cane. I pointed out that these elderly people were once young basketball players and cheerleaders who joined choir or band and argued with their parents about chores and what clothes they could wear.
We sang some of our concert pieces and then we invited the residents to suggest Christmas carols that we could all sing together. When someone suggested “White Christmas” and my accompanist had to admit he didn’t know it, one of my choir members piped up, “We can just sing it without the piano!” Though some of them barely knew the words, they sang with gusto, and the audience joined in.
When we had finished, I encouraged my singers to go and wish people a Merry Christmas. I’d warned them ahead of time about arthritic fingers, so they knew they should shake hands gently. As they scattered around the room reaching for hands and chatting with the residents, I could see them gaining confidence and growing more comfortable around strangers many years older than themselves.
It’s not unusual for teens to say they never want to get old, or to call senior citizens “creepy,” but if we teach them to see beyond the effects of aging and connect with the person within, their discomfort can change into acceptance – or even friendship. As with many things, we just have to provide education and opportunity.