When you get better with age...
"Would you like a coupon?"
I turned around to see a kind smile on the older woman's face.
"Would you like ten dollars off on your groceries?" - she repeated. - "I always take two coupons in case somebody else needs one."
I thanked her for this small favor but her thoughtfulness stuck with me, probably because it was so unusual.
She found a way to help other people without having much to give. She was from another world, a different generation, the one that grew up during the war and financial hardships.
They are my favorite people.
Of course, not all are pleasant to deal with, but I met enough folks in their eighties, nineties and beyond who leave a positive impression. They are stoic and humble, and, oh, so stubbornly independent. Even when sick or in pain they still manage to smile and ask how my day was while younger people become grumpy or whiny.
I am often amazed at patience and generosity that oozes out of them. If I get to be that age, I want to be like these individuals. I want to have peace that goes beyond understanding, calmness in the midst of turmoil. I want to be like good wine that gets better with age not like milk that gets sour.
When you get to share the knowledge...
I don't have my grandparents anymore, and I feel the void.
My favorite grandfather got into a big car accident in his seventies which ultimately led to a deterioration of his health. He spent weeks in a coma and had a long recovery. Despite some loss of independence (he was not able to drive after that), he stayed positive. After getting another chance at life, he would often repeat: "All that matters is to love people, to be at peace with everyone and to be good to this Earth. When you meet God, that's what He will ask you about."
I miss hearing my grandfather's voice. Older people have so much to share. Every generation has a legacy to pass on to the next. Not much longer and the amazing individuals from the Greatest Generation will not be around anymore. Some of them grew up in extreme poverty and then lived through years of hard work but came out through the kiln with a heart of gold. They did the best they could with limited resources. I want to get to know them, to spend time with them while I have the chance.
Unfortunately, we live in the society that does not value old age and often lives disconnected from the previous generations. By not spending time with our elders and not learning from them we lose something far more valuable than we realize.
Back in the day elders were often a source of wisdom. Advice was sought from them in all important decisions. Now we just ask Google. We are too busy to sit down and spend time face to face with an older person who might be too slow for our pace and require a lot of prompting to get his or her story out. It is too much work for us.
But it is not only about passing down knowledge. It is about the heart of things, the understanding, the example of how to live life and why avoid mistakes they made along the way.
In the grocery store that morning I witnessed a practical example of how to be a caring human being and it touched my heart. It made me want to be a better person and to do something unconditional for somebody else.
When you are not afraid to get older...
Every time I meet an older person, I want to look beyond the wrinkles, beyond the physical limitations. What kind of life did they live?
I want them to share the lessons they learned, ask them how they managed to stay married for sixty years, ask how they were able to enjoy life after all the losses. And I feel like I am giving them something as well - an interaction with another human being that they often lack, an ability to pass down their legacy, to feel appreciated and useful, to know that their life left a mark on this Earth.
Instead of connecting online this week, let's save this time to connect with the generation that survived without Internet. They have more life in them than we sometimes realize.
One amazing woman, Patricia, wrote:
"As a person in my eighties, I must applaud the attitude! I wish others shared it. And, hey - I'm already sharing the wisdom (or at least experience, which does not always lead to wisdom!) accumulated over decades of living. I have reached the age of indiscretion: I'm focussing on the things that I enjoy doing in life and plan to do them for as long as I can: writing, travel, photography, classical music. Imagine this old lady, charging down the freeway on a mission to visit the Wineries of the Cape and doing a little essential shopping, listening to the noisier bits of Tchaikovsky on the car HiFi, stopping to take photos of the glorious Cape mountains and then coming home to write about the trip. And if that image doesn't dent your idea of a dear old eighty-five-year-old, nothing will!"
When I grow up, I definitely want to be this kind of grandma!
A lot of people must be afraid of getting older, otherwise anti-aging companies would not be making so much money. But wrinkles on the face don't matter if a person feels young at heart. A more mature age should only mean that relationships are growing deeper, accomplishments wider, soul richer and future brighter.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”
P.S. Below is a video of an award winning photo series by Tom Hussey "Reflections".