We were sitting around a small round dining table, our large mugs of steaming coffee before us. Photos of babies, trinkets from years and years of collecting, and the light of the TV screen all filtered into my view. My neighbors (a sweet married couple) and one of their best friends--a kind, gentle elderly woman--chatted and served crackers to my toddler. The warm afternoon sunlight drifted in the room, catching on my neighbor's wispy white hair.
...if we reach 75 years of marriage, I want him to buy me the biggest diamond he can find! My neighbor declared, grinning at her husband. I'll just wear it and look at it, she said, holding her hand in front of her, dangling from the hypothetical weight of the aforementioned diamond.
Huh. Guess I'll just try my luck and buy a box of Cracker Jacks and find a ring inside, her husband retorted good-naturedly.
The back-and-forth ribbing went on, escalating when I did some quick mental math and informed my neighbors that it is actually possible for the two of them to both be alive for their 75th wedding anniversary. They'd both be in their 90s, but it could happen!
As we all laughed, sipped coffee, and shared our frustrations about the current fashions carried in retail stores, my neighbor and her friend regaled me with stories about life and mothering as it was decades ago. My neighbor told a story about how when she was in her early 20s, she needed to fly to Germany, since her husband was stationed over there. She walked me through the process of this journey, a trip that she made alone with two toddlers and while 7 months pregnant. Before she ever even packed her luggage, she had to go through all this work to obtain a birth certificate, since her doctor, who was present at her birth in the home in the late 1930s, did not write up a birth certificate for her. Then, not only did she have a flight across the U.S.A. followed by a twenty-six hour trip to Germany, but she had to wrangle her kids once she got there as she dealt with customs and found their luggage.
I just don't know if people today would go through that kind of thing, she mused, her wrinkled hand sitting on the table.
Oh, most people today would probably NOT go through that, I agreed. And if they did, they'd be on their phones, complaining on social media the entire time.
If there's one thing I learn from chatting with elderly people, it's perspective. I know that many people have complaints about millennials, and while some of the critiques are a bit unwarranted and do not apply to every millennial out there, I do have to honestly admit that some of these critiques are deserved. As my neighbor mentioned, many people today don't really know what it is to struggle and you would be hard-pressed to find a women who is willing to take a twenty-six hour trip to Germany while hugely pregnant, with two toddlers, without the luxury of another person helping or having social media to access for venting or advice. Many of us have not grown up in the aftermath of the Great Depression or lived through a World War. Many of us have no comprehension of what it's like to make $50 a month and be grateful for it (even if the value of the dollar was different fifty or sixty years ago, this was not an extravagant amount of money. For those of us who are currently having kids, our children are being born into a world that has high-speed internet and instant fixes for everything.
We need to hear the stories our elderly friends and relatives have lived through. And we need to learn from them. Not just hear them as "those stories Grandma always tells" that we may be tempted to roll our eyes at, but actually listen to what countless men and women have lived through. Learn how-even though we live in a much more technology advanced world in the present day-to apply a good work ethic to whatever we do. See how we can embrace some of the simplicity that so many elderly people possess. Realize that when little things happen to disrupt our day, it's not the end of the world-these people in our neighborhoods, assisted living centers, nursing homes, churches-they've seen it all, been through it all, and lived to tell the tale.
Not only that, but as a mother, I really appreciate how the perspective that these old women bring is so refreshing and peaceful. My neighbor has already told me once or twice that parenting "back in her day" was much simpler. You just raised your kids, let them roam, and did what worked. You didn't have to contend with parenting theories and opinions coming at you from all sides of the library and the internet. You didn't obsessively Google-search parenting questions, you just did your thing.
I am continually grateful for the gift of my neighbors, and all the other elderly people I know. We all have our quirks and differences, but each of these people is a human person with dignity and worth, and is an incredible gift. We live in a high-paced world, but I think all of us would do well to slow down our lives a bit more and get to know the elderly people in our lives.