Before I Die, I Want to _________________

That’s what TedX Sacramento asked participants to write on a big blackboard on Friday.

My best oldest friend recently reminded people what I used to say when we were teenagers. I told her I wanted to be wise. Maybe I thought that would be an admirable answer. But now that I am where I am in my life, I think it’s still a pretty good answer.

I spent a lot of time in the past 7 years with someone I considered very wise, and wisdom turned out to be something different than I imagined.

My father, who died in January at the age of 96, didn’t offer his opinions, although his were well informed by experience. He didn’t try to demonstrate how much he knew, although he was well educated and read broadly. He was patient, and humble to the point of self-effacing.

And to much of the world, he was invisible.

This, to me, is one of the great tragedies of our time: that we live in communities with more and more old people, and we mostly ignore them because they are seen as no longer beautiful, not useful as a source of social connections, don’t get the inside jokes, and – horror of horrors – they are not fast. They take too long pulling out of parking spaces and writing checks at the grocery store. Their stories can’t be condensed in 140 characters.

Until his last few months of life, my Dad was capable of listening with great empathy, as if he had nothing more important to do than to listen to my problems or those of others. And maybe that’s the point, he really didn’t have anything more important to do. He was able to devote 100% of his attention to anyone who was sincere and making an effort.

His wisdom was dispensed in stories, not just the ones with successful endings, but the things that caused him pain. Through these stories, he conveyed what really mattered: family, accountability, bravery, loyalty, integrity.

We have time and money to address childhood poverty, as we should. But there seems to be no moral outrage that one out of five of seniors in California is living in poverty, according to the supplemental Census bureau measure that factors in the cost of medicine, which is not an elective expensive for seniors. One in ten seniors doesn’t have enough food to meet their needs.

Seniors may not hold the future, but they may help us to live our future better. With their wisdom, maybe they will help us to avoid a few mistakes, or to correct a few that we’ve made. If only we can unplug from our social networks and pause from the demands of our lives long enough to notice the precious resources who lie hidden among us.

Lessons of a sometime-social observer, caregiver and her father may be found at TheHenryChronicles.com

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