EVERYTHING in the cosmos passes through various stages of unfoldment. This unfoldment — from lowest to highest — is inherent in the nature of all things.
We, as human beings, also pass through the different stages of life. We are born here as children, grow up as adults and then ultimately move to become seniors before departing the physical world. These three stages are explicitly mentioned in the Holy Quran.
Among all these stages, the last stage of seniority forms an important part of life because seniors are the banks of knowledge, experience, culture and tradition. At the onset of seniority, they are to make room for the younger generations to come forward and lead the nation. However, their prayers, support and encouragement are continuous sources of inspiration for strengthening society.
‘Zikr’ can combat loneliness.
Their grey hair, wrinkles and slow moments are evidence of their experience, skills, knowledge and wisdom, gained over years of hard work, sweat and toil. Many have lived through situations others cannot even imagine. Their contribution to building and sustaining society cannot be undervalued.
Pakistan is likely to see a growing number of seniors in its population in the coming years. It is for society and government to take advantage of their experience, knowledge and wisdom by formulating a national policy for this segment of the population.
At reaching the age of retirement, senior citizens face a variety of problems. Among them some are more crucial and deserve special attention. These include problems related to health, finance, loneliness and detachment from family and society. Consequently, many seniors live a life of boredom and monotony. Their young and adult family members become indifferent to their problems, having no time to share even a few moments with them.
With regard to health, one must be mindful that our body works like a machine. Any newly acquired machine works fast and smooth, but over time it starts to experience wear and tear. Similarly, our bodies are machines made up of flesh, blood and bones. One must be cautious about its wear and tear. It requires proper maintenance and upkeep to enhance its working condition. If ignored, one has to face difficulties in the twilight years.
Many people develop disabilities in later life related to wear and tear or the onset of chronic diseases or degenerative illnesses. But disabilities associated with ageing and the onset of chronic diseases can be prevented or delayed, if certain rules are observed strictly so that the body remains in the finest fettle all through life.
Though modern science and technology have resulted in longer lifespans, a person’s period of productive working life remains the same. New ideas are being developed to reverse the ageing process but it will take a long time before we can come up with some concrete ideas.
The second important problem relates to finance. On attaining the age of superannuation, many seniors face a money crunch, sometimes become penniless, and their dependence on their families increases. In order to pre-empt such a situation in later life, one should save and invest money in the prime of life, so that he/she may not hold a begging bowl in front of others in the twilight years.
Another major issue relates to loneliness. With the pressure of modern life, the traditional family bonds are being loosened or even broken. This has created a gulf between the youth and their seniors resulting in unhappiness. The ongoing rapid change in family structure and emergence of nuclear families versus the age-old joint family system has resulted in many young couples preferring to ‘go nuclear’. In this way, seniors are left to fend for themselves in their twilight years.
In traditional societies, where the joint family system prevails, the latter is instrumental in safeguarding the social and economic security of the seniors.
Besides, with increased mobility of the young from one city to another and rise in migration abroad for work and study, many seniors are left to cope with the challenges of ageing alone.
One must realise that human relations are unlikely to remain evergreen; they are neither permanent nor of sufficient interest all through life. Therefore, everyone should strengthen the spiritual connection with Allah by developing a habit and interest in remembrance through zikr.
This would keep people happy, tranquil and busy against the growing winds of loneliness and detachment within the family system. It is an effective tool to combat loneliness especially at the time of embracing seniority and the facing indifference of others. Allah says: “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest…” (13:28).
We must find some way to address the problems of seniors by providing them some safety net to cope with the challenge of this modern life.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2017