There is a myth that people get too old to do things. I think society likes to label a group of folks by what it considers to be old. I know a lot of folks in the senior citizen category who can make the younger crowd look woefully out of shape. I’ve seen ninety-year-old folks outwork those who are younger. Do they have a magic formula for the fountain of youth? No. But they all have one thing in common. They refuse to allow themselves to be old and feeble.
When I was a kid, I worked as a volunteer for a few nursing homes. One thing was crystal clear – the history the older generation has is more entertaining than most history books. Many of them love to talk to people about their glory days. I will never forget Mr. Kramer. He loved his moon pies and flirting with any woman that he encountered. He would talk about World War II and what he experienced, the losses he endured, the family that isolated themselves from him, and the people that meant the most to him. It was through his eyes that I began to see every senior citizen was once young and vital. Life is a cruel teacher. Mr. Kramer would take me under his wing and teach me about observing people. He loved helping others hone their observational skills. His eyesight had diminished, but his knowledge remained unchallenged. I was fortunate to learn from his teachings.
Ms. Somers was another one of my favorite seniors to visit. She taught elementary school for over fifty years. Her hearing had diminished, but her eyesight was sharp. Her sister was blind, and she was deaf, but the two of them made a formidable force. They were each other’s yin and yang. They always called me Tommy because I was a tomboy. They would chuckle at how I loved to climb trees and swing from the branches. I preferred fishing and dirt. It wasn’t very lady-like, but I didn’t care. I felt free, and they both taught me about the Great Depression since they grew up and experienced it first hand. They spoke of their father. He was a police officer. Ms. Somers would tell of former students who had pursued their education further and become doctors, professionals, and those who opted to live simpler lives. She was proud of every single student she taught. Even the students who had been rambunctious were among her favorites. As she indicated, education was never dull.
Each of the mentors that affected me taught me two important lessons. The first is to continue learning every chance you get. Education keeps your mind sharp. Plus, a lot of seniors love to gossip. It helps them keep communication channels open. Learning to listen to their gossip can be amusing and educational at the same time. The second reason is to open your eyes to the world. Life passes you by before you realize what happened. Keeping a younger mindset prevents our minds from accepting that we are older. Each of the seniors that I learned from encouraged me to continue learning. Mr. Kramer once told me that “If you don’t find ways to keep learning, you deserve to get taken for a fool.” At the time I thought that statement was a little harsh but the older I get, the more I recognize the wisdom in that statement.
When most of us are young, we don’t fully comprehend the challenges we will face as we age. We look at those who are older and don’t acknowledge their health issues. I can promise most of you that as we all age, our joints complain, our bodies go through changes, our perceptions and priorities shift, or we may struggle with our identities with our professions and relationships. Aging is a mindset as well as a reality. None of us can stop time. We can help each other along the way to recognize that our lives are full of knowledge and skills. Some of those skills may seem obsolete to people but there is always a need to keep older skills sharp.
Depression and anxiety are serious issues that are affecting many people in all walks of life. Mental illness can be a harsh reality for those who are aging. Mental illness has the uncanny ability to affect people of all ages. As we age, many of us lose the independence that we’ve had. We may lose agility, our memories, our bodies may begin to falter, and we may feel out of control at times. What’s important is we continue to find ways to keep motivated and keep moving. If you think I’m exaggerating about this, visit a nursing home facility where the residents are not active or engaged. You will see the loneliness, the life leaving their souls. These are the abandoned, sometimes neglected, and tired. They don’t get visitors. Many of them don’t talk. They just sit there waiting to die. They have lost hope. It’s heartbreaking to watch. Each one of them has stories about their lives. Most of those stories will die with them. COVID has made things worse. Many of the facilities won’t let families see their loved ones because of the virus. This is difficult for all parties involved.
I hope you all remain healthy and can enjoy the days leading up to Christmas. Remember, many are struggling due to the virus this season. If you get a chance, send someone a card, write a letter, send a care package, or even find ways to reach someone older. Let those who have taken care of us know they are appreciated. Your actions can be infectious. The positive energy you pass on to them can help those in the darkest corners of life see the light. It’s those kinds of actions that make all the difference in the world.