Monday, December 28, 2015

Lessons from old people

Yes, that's right, I said "old people." I realize that's not politically correct but every single one of the people who come to mind when I use the term are well aware they are old, so the term may be shocking to you, but I'm pretty sure it isn't to them.

Anyway, I've always been fond of old people. I appreciate them. The first thing I did when I got my driver's license was drive to the nursing home in Arlington and pick up a volunteer application, after which I began visiting the home regularly. I've been interacting closely with old people ever since and have learned a lot of valuable lessons from them.

I'd like to share three of them with you.

1) Never underestimate the value of an encouraging word.

There was a lovely woman named Elaine with severe MS at the home in Arlington who had lost the use of her hands. As a result, she couldn't keep up her long-standing habit of writing cards and letters to friends and family on her own. That's where I came in.

Every week when I would visit, she would have a list of people she wanted to write notes to. In her quiet, tremulous voice, she would dictate words of encouragement to me and I would carefully write them down, address the envelope, and apply the stamp. Elaine's face would light up at the sight of the stack of cards ready to be mailed.

The notes were typically short but always heartfelt. Sometimes she ensured people she was praying for them, that she loved them, that they were special. Other times she thanked them profusely for some small gift they had sent. My weekly visits with Elaine taught me to encourage others whenever there's a chance. And to appreciate the use of my hands.

2) Practice hospitality

I've mentioned my dear friend Miss Esther before. Well, she has taught me a lot about hospitality. I used to open the door halfway when someone knocked, and peer at them half-suspicious and half-expectant, waiting to hear what it was they wanted. "Hurry up and speak your piece," I would think. "You're letting all the cold air in."

But that's not how Miss Esther rolls. When someone knocks on her door, she invites them in. It doesn't matter if she's in the middle of something or if she hardly knows the person or whatever. She holds that door open wide and welcomes them warmly. And once they're inside, she makes sure they're comfortable, she offers them refreshments, and she practices the lost art of making genuine conversation. I want to be like that.

3) Don't be so quick to burn your bridges

Sid and George were roommates. Two of the cutest old men you've ever seen, they shared a small room in a nursing home in Bellingham, and they spent their days playing cards and listening to music together. I loved visiting them because they told a lot of jokes and made me laugh.

One day I arrived at the home to find Sid sitting alone in his room, lost and forlorn and staring at the floor. When I pressed the issue, he said he and George had gotten into a fight about the volume of their music and George had requested a room change.

"I should've turned it down," Sid said. "I miss my friend."

I learned a lot about relationships that day. I learned that personal preferences aren't worth discarding people for, and that when you insist on getting your way you often get more than you bargained for. I don't know if Sid and George ever made up, but they were both very old and I hope they had the chance before one of them was gone. And if you are having a problem with another person, I hope you'll talk to them while there's still time to repair the bridge.

What have you learned from the wise, old people in your life? I'd love to hear about it.

1 comment:

  1. I had to sit with an old man at work today to make sure he didn't try to get out of bed. Kind of made me miss the times I worked at the nursing home. If they weren't teaching you something they could at least make you laugh!