The Sweet Sound of Respect for Elders

by Dennison Keller

Vintage african american senior jazz musician with trumpet in front of old wooden wall. Wearing suit and cap.

One of the reasons I got into elder law is because it irks me that not enough people seem to respect elders in the first place.  Too often, when a younger person sees a senior citizen crossing the street at perhaps a slower pace, the reaction is, “Move it Grandpa” without even considering the wealth of wisdom that older individual has accumulated wandering the planet for seven, eight, nine, or even ten decades!

That’s why it was refreshing to see and, more specifically, hear a bit more reverence directed toward elders on a recent trip to New Orleans.  I flew there for the annual conference of the Life Care Planning Law Firms Association, and quickly learned that the great age equalizer in this town is its legendary jazz music.

As I walked through the shops of the French Quarter, I saw countless paintings and still-shots depicting musicians well into their seventies and eighties, riffing with passion on a guitar or blowing with vigor into a horn.   I bought a photograph showing a group of teenage boys wearing a life size cut-out of Lionel Batiste, a revered local drummer who had passed away at the age of 80.  And, I saw with my own eyes elder players working patrons into a frenzy with their jazz talents at the numerous music clubs.   Here it seems to go beyond the adage that if you can play, you belong.  It’s almost as if the longer you play, the more respected you are.  That is such a pleasant change from the youth obsessed pop music scene.

Of course, it’s not all sweet music.  New Orleans struggles with a poverty rate well above the national average, and many of those poor are seniors.  But wander through Big Easy, and in wonderful, fleeting moments, you can find old and young on equal footing…. and those feet are dancing.  If only we could move that harmony from the French Quarter to all quarters of society.  Until then, I might just have to take up the trumpet.

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