I enjoyed Christmas dinner this year with three wonderful ladies “of a certain age”; one, a few months shy of her 100th birthday and her two friends a bit younger. I was struck by their warm friendship and nurturing support of each other, as when two of them read the menu to their friend who was near blind. They got to giggling when she ordered a “gargantuan” shrimp cocktail, realizing, as the poor waitress did not, that she was poking gentle fun at the venue which had described it on the menu as “colossal.” Their dignity and manners were awesome, and the flashes of wit and wordplay made for a lovely meal.

I began to reflect on the sometimes touchy issue of how we treat our elders. This is a subject in which I have been on both sides. Case in point; a few years ago I asked a Chinese friend if she could give me a mildly pejorative word I could use to tease a senior friend, an anthropologist who had visited the East many times, and spoke fluent Mandarin. She was aghast, scolding me that poking fun at elders, even lovingly, simply was not done and she’d have none of it. When I told my friend, he noted that she was correct, though the rule was not always followed, as, for instance, during the Cultural Revolution, when “young know-nothings like you” tormented scholars like him as part of their dialectical refashioning of society. Score one for the seniors.