In my years of working with elders, and I shudder to think how many that has added up to, I’ve had the privilege of working with many elders. Some were people born before 1900, who invented things like plastic wrap and lunch bags, who participated in the creation of the first nuclear power plant, and who grew up during the great depression. Others told me they remembered the first television shows watched on a neighborhood black and white television. I’ve known people who were around even before Social Security and Medicare, and those many relied on company pensions during their later years.
In a previous profession I had the task of interviewing elders in nursing homes to obtain their social history. I was young and at first it was an uncomfortable task for me. I felt as though I was prying into their private lives but they didn’t seem to see it that way. Most spoke openly of their past, their childhoods and upbringing, their family life and careers. Some men would share their disappointments of working too much at the expense of their families, while some women would share their disappointments of never having had children or having had children that failed them. Amazingly to me, at the end of our interview, people would thank me for taking the time. And all I could think was, no, thank you! You gave me so much by sharing your story.
We live in a fast changing society where a cell phone is old in two years and ancient in five. Knowledge and technology is changing faster than ever. Yet, our elders are slowing down, sometimes it feels like they are going in the opposite direction. I remember one time a lady I had been working with stopped me at a time I was in such a hurry. I felt pressured and wanted to avoid her seeing me but could not. It turned out she stopped to thank me for helping her earlier and then she handed me a gift of a bookmark that had the poem, “You took time.” Augh! I felt embarrassed with my attitude. That interaction reset my perspective.
The bottom line is that most of us are multitasking through life at warp speed. We find ourselves trying to do so many things that we end up ignoring or dismissing those who are not traveling through life at our pace. We might feel a twinge of guilt for not giving them time, foolishly thinking we are the only ones doing the giving. We neglect to see what that person has to offer to us. But, the wealth of information and life that these individuals may be able to share with us is invaluable. Their wisdom and experiences are a precious commodity. We can even learn and grow from their mistakes, possibly limiting some of our own. And their acceptance of us can be totally disarming, especially when we are feeling rather unaccepting of ourselves.
So, the next time you start to give in to the rush of life and avoid slowing down to interact with an elder, think twice. If you avoid the opportunity, it may be that the one who really loses out is you.