Golden Years

“Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.” – Mark Twain

I just got my hair trimmed the other day and noticed the clippings on the floor resembled fresh snow on the ground.

Old age has been creeping up on me for the past 50 years. There’s no denying that I’m far from the skinny nerd I was when I was in high school. I’m still a nerd, just not so skinny and with a lot more wrinkles.

And lately I’ve been thinking more and more about an event that happened quite a few years ago.

I was with my mother visiting one of her older friends who was in the latter stages of her life. She spent most of her time in bed at a nursing facility. She shared a double room with another older lady. Mom and I were preparing to leave at the end of our visit as Mom’s friend had to be taken out of the room for something. I trailed behind a bit.

The lady in the other part of the room struck up a conversation as I was preparing to leave. Being polite, I stayed and talked for a bit with her about her kids, grandkids and shared bits about trivial topics. I was eager to leave and join my mother. But I let her go on and tried my best to stay engaged with her.

I can’t for the life of me remember her name. I don’t even remember what she looked like. But I will NEVER forget one thing she said.

She turned to the desk beside her bed, looking directly at a picture of a distinguished older gentleman I assumed was her husband. Her eyes became glassy as she gazed at him for a few seconds. And then with a sound that I could only describe as a woeful and frail wail she said, “Come back! Come back…” The second time trailed off.

I had to get out of there! I did my best not to let her see me start to cry. I told her that I really needed to catch up with my mother and bid a very heartfelt goodbye with a gentle hug.

I never saw her again.

That day completely changed my perspective. It was a coming of age moment that has helped me to become the person I am today.

This poor lady’s family never came to see her. She was so lonely that she was reduced to begging her late husband to come back. I still have to keep myself from crying each time I think about it (even right now).

It’s just so incredibly frustrating and saddening that so many of our older citizens are hung out to dry by their families. They sit day after day in their homes, in facilities, just waiting for their families (or anyone for that matter) to show some interest in talking to them, to just be with them. They all deserve better.

And they have so much knowledge to share, so much history. Talking to someone in their golden years can prove to be very educational and many times downright fun. I’ve learned so much from the times I’ve talked with people in their golden years. I’ve learned firsthand accounts of the Great Depression, World War II, the early 60’s and other historic times. I enjoy every minute.

Now that my mother is nearing that point in life I vow I will NEVER let her feel that lonely. I will also work to engage as many older people as possible as I travel through life. Not just for them but for me as well. I’m richer for every experience.

I just wish I could go back to see that lady one more time and learn about her life. I feel that I’m missing out.

Talk to someone in their golden years today. You don’t know what you’re missing.

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Get Along

“Courage is grace under pressure.” – Ernest Hemingway

I realize how long it has been since my last post. 

A lot has happened since then. I’ve lost dearly loved ones, changed jobs and watched the lines in my face deepen.

I’ve also watched with dismay what has happened to our great country. We went through one of the most divisive elections in our nation’s history and have collectively watched as our new president has seemed to stumble his way along. Some love him. Others hate him. But everyone has an opinion.

But much larger than that is the way in which Americans have treated each other. It seems like courtesy and respect have been replaced by name-calling and in some cases fisticuffs. And it makes me want to cry. I’ve had discussions with friends that have nearly devolved into shouting matches. I’ve watched protests and counter-protests end with injuries on both sides. Why?

The rise of “fake news” – which seems to be interpreted as any news item with which I disagree – is a big reason. Lies become truth when all you listen to are liars. And many of those lies are fueling mistrust of other people.

There is so much anger out there, so much distrust, so much hatred. And Americans are increasingly turning their anger on each other.

Anger is very easy, yes. Blaming someone for a “problem” is a lot easier than trying to fix the “problem.” It’s convenient, cheap and requires very little effort.

It’s also the way of the coward.

It’s easy to point a finger at someone else and blame them for your lot in life. Maybe they look different. Maybe they vote different. Maybe they believe different. And since they are different they are an easy target. Anger increases the release of dopamine, your body’s natural Dr. Feelgood. Putting someone in their place just makes you feel good. “I showed him didn’t I?” Lashing out also makes you feel in control. So many of us feel that our lives are not completely in our control anymore. Lashing out at one of “them” can make you feel like you’ve regained control.

But it’s like consuming too much alcohol. There is always a price. The good feeling disappears and the control is only temporary. And you’ve almost assuredly created a time bomb that could explode right back in your face. Anger begets anger.

And guess what? The problem has not been fixed.

Now more than any time in modern history our country needs courage. Courage involves stepping in front of two people shouting at each other. Courage involves stepping outside of yourself and into the shoes of another with an alternate point of view. Courage involves talking WITH your “enemy” rather than AT him.

So turn off the television. Disregard the angry web rants. Make it a point to talk to people with a different point of view. Seek them out and talk to them. You will likely find they are not really your “enemy.” In fact, you’ll probably find you have a lot in common with them.

Once you realize how much you have in common you can ease a lot of the anger and really start working on fixing problems. That’s what TRULY can make America great again.

Courage is easier than you think.