As a child watching Star Wars A New Hope, I really did not spend too much time thinking about the character of Obi Wan Kenobi. Obi-Wan, or “old Ben” as Luke refers to him, was played by Sir Alec Guinness. Obi Wan spends his senior years in isolation living like a hermit and keeping watch over young Luke Skywalker. He is a dedicated Jedi and keeps his watch as promised.
As I have aged over the years, I think more about this character. In the movies, Obi-Wan is well on in his years, and is regarded by Luke’s uncle as a crazy old man. Luke is told to stay away from him. But once Luke meets Ben while searching for Artoo, he is introduced to a more complex person. Ben becomes more human and deep than we are first led to believe. He lives simply and shows compassion for young Luke. Ultimately he sacrifices himself in order to perhaps teach Luke a lesson on the Force and the sacrifice for greater good. Luke finds a friend and mentor in Obi-wan. He becomes a “cool” senior in the Star Wars universe.
Several months ago I was at an opening for a play in Vancouver. I saw an elderly woman who was sitting away from the buzzing crowd – not because she wanted to be alone, but because she found the only place available to sit because of her mobility issues. She sat there, watching the “important” people move past her to compliment the actors and the director on a splendid job. Perhaps because I have an elderly mother I approached her and engaged in conversation. She seemed a little puzzled when I first approached her. I introduced myself (and what my role had been with the production) and her initial suspicion disappeared. She eagerly engaged with me about the arts. I learned that her father had been a fencing champion many years ago. I took an active interest in speaking with her and she seemed to enjoy our conversation. She was witty, intelligent and I learned so much from her during our brief visit. Soon enough other people had approached me to converse and I made a point of introducing her to them. She thanked me for coming over to her to talk. I thanked her for speaking with me.
The other day I was walking down the street and saw another older woman with a rolling walker. She was trying to open a door to a shop, but was having difficulty with her walker and the door. I asked her if I could open it for her and she was very happy to have my assistance. She told me she wished the door had a button to push to have it open and I agreed with her. I wished her a good day and carried on with my errands.
As I have written earlier, I have an elderly mother. She is amazing, and has a wicked sense of humour and endless incredible stories about her career in the banking world as an early female executive in what was then a man’s world. She is a tall woman – almost six feet tall. As the years and stress have taken their toll, she walks with a bent back, and needs to take time when walking. When I have been out with her I notice how people tend NOT to look as she makes her way in and out of stores. It is so sad and upsetting to see this. We, as society, often go about our own business and don’t take the time to see others around us. Younger shop assistants tend to ignore older customers because it takes too long, or they would rather spend time chatting to their peers. Seniors deserve more than this. These people have a wealth of information and stories that we all can benefit from. Ben Kenobi turns out to be a Jedi Warrior and a mentor for young Skywalker. Initially Ben is referred to as a “crazy old man” – but he is essential to helping restore some balance to the galaxy. How many great people go on being ignored as they age? Why do we do this to them? I had a student once who told me that “old people” scared him. Why? To me, age is a badge of honour. It is an accomplishment that we should celebrate.
There is another way younger people react to the elderly. If we are not busy ignoring them, then we tend to treat them like children. If they are slow to speak, we rush in to finish their sentences, or we rush them. In doing so, this becomes frustrating to them and they shut down. They become silent, and they withdraw.
Luke shows Ben Kenobi compassion and treats him with respect. If there is anything we can do for the elderly (and the children as well) it is to treat them with respect, compassion and reverence. If we take the time to listen to them, to hear them – really hear them – perhaps we will learn something new. Our elders have a knowledge and experience that can only come with age. It is time for us to take notice of them, for they may prove to be the Jedi Masters who live amongst us.