As the Administrator of a senior citizen facility, it has been my privilege to be part of their lives every day. They have such a vast body of education and experience that it is an adventure to hear them recount their lives.
Those that were ground breaking women, a woman that travelled to post-war Japan to open an American business and her counterparts in Japan said, “when is your boss coming,” expecting a man, one that never ended up arriving. Men who served in World War II in the Pacific Theatre or the European Theatre of operations reside at the facility. One elderly gentleman told me, “we all did our jobs and tried to stay alive.”
Women whose husbands or brothers returned home from the war injured physically and or emotionally. One resident told how she was taking care of her brother who had been a prisoner of war in World War II and was in very poor shape when he returned home. She told me that it took six months back home before he could sleep at night and any loud noise would send him running for cover. A few months after her brother returned, her husband arrived and he was even worse off. Though she faced an arduous task, she smiled as she recounted those days and you knew from her expression, that she knew that she had done something very important in restoring her brother and her husband to health.
Many young people are unable to profit from the wisdom of older people either through separation through distance or their assumption that life was so different years ago that their advice might be irrelevant.
For much of the existence of humans, they have relied heavily on the “elders” or “wise people” among their own kind. In fact, we know that the accumulated wisdom of the elderly often spelled the difference between survival and death in man’s earliest times. The elders often helped teach the children, knew how to care for the sick and were the people that everyone turned to in a time of crisis. Psychologist Juan Pascual-Leone has coined the phrase “ultimate limit situations.” These situations are among the most taxing and consequential like aging, failure, oppression, loss, crushing poverty and risking death in war.
Great wisdom can be harvested from these situations and the elderly have experienced more of these dilemmas than most young people. Many of the elderly can remember the leans times associated with economic depressions and economic recessions. Wouldn’t they know how to navigate the current economic downturns given their experience with them before?
Perhaps I have a romantic myopia that idealizes the elderly among us. I grew up without elderly relatives after moving to America having had a large extended family before. To this day I can remember my Aunts and Uncles and their colorful personalities and their kindnesses to me.
One of the greatest wisdoms that I have learned from the many older folks that I have known is to relax and to not “make mountains out of molehills” all the time. I know quite a number of people who are truly stressed out. They are on tight schedules, have little time for themselves or their loved ones or to just relax and have fun. If you talk to an older person they will tell you to be “eager to come to work and eager to go home.” In other words separate your work life from your home life and “don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Perhaps the greatest wisdom spoken to me was by an elderly gentleman that I knew quite a few years ago while we were listening to a lecture about the wisdom of the elderly. He said that every age has its wisdom. No particular age has the market on wisdom. Certainly experiential knowledge is important albeit a step behind the thinking that will solve the current problem. While I had great respect for my professor all those years ago for saying that no age is wiser than another, I am not sure that I agreed with his assessment. In my life, pretty consistently, the older people around me have often offered some of the most well-reasoned and rational ideas. I still believe that experience is one of the greatest teachers.
Remember all kids count.
Reach the writer at Hurlburt@wildblue.net