Musings from the Workbench: The tradition and instruction to honor our fathers and mothers

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) This is the fourth commandment in a list of ten presented to Moses on Mount Sinai as the core expectations of a righteous and civilized nation. These Ten Commandments set the Hebrews apart from the pagan tribes of Palestine and the surrounding regions because they brought order and compassion into daily life.

In the several millennia before the giving of the Law to the Hebrews (which eventually became the nation of Israel) every tribe had its own particular ways of dealing with its population. Infanticide was common, which meant that babies which were somehow malformed, or female, if there were plenty of females on hand, were taken out into the wilderness and left exposed to the elements and wild beasts. Senicide, or geronticide, was also widely practiced as a way of dealing with the elderly members of the tribe who could no longer work, hunt, or keep up with the rest of the tribe in their nomadic wanderings. These old, and supposedly useless, fathers and mothers were disposed of by various means ranging from abandonment to ritual murder.

The Hebraic Law, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” is more than just a commandment that young people should be obedient to their parents, it is a commandment against geronticide. The elderly people – the seniors – were not to be abandoned, starved, neglected, or killed. The fathers and mothers of the people were to be honored, cared for, fed, and upheld as sources of wisdom and learning.

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In the present economic and political environment, perhaps our leaders need to be reminded of this Biblical commandment, “…so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

I am in the unusual position of being well versed in the ways in which our government fulfills this commandment, or not. My wife, Pam Doty, has led The Meeting Place Senior Recreational Center, and its satellite locations in Green Creek and Saluda, for 15 years, and over that time I have seen and heard how Polk County, North Carolina upholds the commandment that we “honor our fathers and mothers.”

To put it succinctly, Pam Doty, her limited staff, and the ever so necessary cadre of volunteers, provide innumerable services to the senior citizens of Polk County through Mobile Meals, copious recreational activities, personal counseling, various sorts of advocacy and interventions, computer education and access, physical conditioning, daily hot meals in the dining hall, assistance with Medicare enrollment and insurance issues, and general socialization for those who might otherwise have no other human contact. Sometimes the most important activity of the day is just to sit and listen to seniors’ stories so they know that they are still valued as a human beings.

Besides all this, Pam Doty and her staff and volunteers grow much of the food used in the meals programs in a large garden all year round, and what is not used in those meals is given away to participants to help reduce their food expenses at home with fresh, wholesome produce. And Pam Doty and her staff do all this on a shoestring county budget, and through gifts and donations from the people in the community.

One of the great concerns these days for Pam Doty and her small staff is that some of the pending federal legislation will cut or eliminate much of the funding which supports programs like Mobile Meals and which provide Polk County with external means to keep these necessary and vital services active so that we as a community, “honor [our] fathers and [our] mothers, so that [our] days may be long in the land.”

Yes, I have a prejudice toward The Meeting Place in Columbus, Green Creek, and Saluda because over the past 15 years I have seen how Pam Doty goes far beyond the defined parameters of her job to serve her seniors, often on her own time and with her own resources. I have seen how she and staff members will go out of their way to listen to stories, share joys and grief, play games, set up for the Bridge Club (and fill in as a fourth, if necessary), create a piece of craft work, lead a class, and recruit volunteers from the community to assist in whatever way is needful at the time. They also knock themselves out to make holidays special events.

Yes, Polk County, North Carolina, does try to obey the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” However, the resources needed to do this are great, and volunteer contributions and advocacy with county government is going to become increasingly essential if the good work of the senior citizens program in Polk County is to meet the needs of its senior residents, which make up 50 percent of the county’s population.

One of the great threats to our civilization is the loss of compassion and advocacy for the elderly, the weak, the infirm, the handicapped, the sick, and those who struggle with dementia. The Bible is clear and uncompromising in its most basic statement contained in the fourth commandment wherein we are ordered to care for and support our fathers and mothers, not just for their sakes, but for our own sake as a culture and civilization. It is about far more than funding and structures, it is about how we choose to define ourselves in a conflicted world.

One final note: Volunteers are always welcome (especially drivers for Mobile Meals), and voluntary financial contributions are necessary to sustain much of the programming. Drop by any time for a warm welcome, a great meal, and a good time. The Meeting Place Senior Recreation Center is located at 75 Carmel Lane (just off Skyuka Drive) in Columbus, NC 28722. The phone number is 828-894-0001. The Green Creek Center is in the Greek Creek Community Center, and the Saluda Senior Center is just across the railroad tracks from downtown Saluda.

-Michael Doty