Living in London and being an elderly person can have many positive aspects (access to the best healthcare professionals, better choice of services etc.), but few people realise one negative side of the equation: loneliness. Different studies and researches have demonstrated that loneliness is damaging people’s physical and mental health and is more harmful than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In addition, this condition and feeling are exacerbated in one of the most frenetic and hectic cities in the world: London.
Old age has maturity and wisdom as natural characteristics, which should be appreciated as much as impetuousness and inexperience in the young people because each stage of the life has its own unique aspect. Maturity and wisdom come through the great and amazing journey called life. Each individual has a treasure of experiences, encounters and adventures, which has a priceless value and is too precious not to be shared with others. In addition, although the majority of us believe that elderly people are not interested in new friends due to the potential few years ahead of them, the reality is that even at advanced ages new relationships prosper and take root.
At Sant'Egidio, we are privileged witnesses of this friendship every time during Our Cup of Tea. We sit and have dinner with our elderly friends, who tell us unbelievable experiences of their lives. For example, John had a professional relationship with the Royal Family and knew personally some of them or Bob had a job which allowed him visiting so many countries 30-40 years ago that it would even be extremely difficult nowadays to beat him despite the availability of more affordable travel options.
We see our elderly friends build such close relationships with each other month after month, that we can now predict who will be sat next to each other when we set the tables. We enjoy our friends' great singing and acting performances on the stage during the meal, which is an amazing way for them to share the best part of themselves. However, what I mainly noticed is that the number of our elderly friends is increasing time over time thanks just by word of mouth.
If it is true what Cicero wrote in his “De senectute” essay “For old people the enjoyment of the banquets should not be measured by the physical pleasures they gave more than by the gathering and conversation of friends”, we are definitely on the right journey (and our “banquets” are extremely delicious too!). The friendship I see being built during Our Cup of Tea at Sant'Egidio is what gives me the passion to strive and break the sad equation “London + elderly people = loneliness”; because we truly believe not only that old age should be a serene period of life, but also that it should be a source of inspiration for us all, as it certainly is for me.