Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Older But Wiser

The recent “Older But WiserWoman to Woman® show reminded me how aging smooths out when we stay connected through relationships and activity. We may not be quite “older but wiser” yet, but we know women who are. How can we respond to, include and affirm them? I find my older friends hesitant to articulate their needs, especially in lonely moments, so it can be difficult to know when they need me.

I grew up in a family where age was respected. We honored our elders with visits and letters and interactions, so it was natural for me to fall in step when I married into the “older but wiser” family of my husband. His parents were older than mine; his mom was already 65, a big difference when mine was 50. When I moved to my husband’s hometown, I was surrounded by smart, older women, including three of my mother-in-law’s sisters in town and two who visited frequently from out of town. They were lively, talented and interesting women who reminisced about the early 1900’s like it was yesterday. They grew up quilting and sewing, a bonus for me because “Spooky,” my mother-in-law, welcomed our mending in her sewing basket. Eventually with four kids, I had plenty of holes to patch and pants to hem, and she rejoiced in helping us with those projects. That shed a whole new light for me on helpfulness with a “servant’s spirit!”

Holidays and birthday parties were at our house and the older but wiser crowd came. My kids entertained them with their instruments and antics, but really they were just fine entertaining themselves with stories about the good old days. They were good storytellers, and we learned a lot, never knowing how much was true and how much was embellished. Everybody went home with enough favorite food to last for days, including my curried zucchini soup, which Nannie loved.

Twenty years later when the kids had all left home, I realized our social lives had pretty much revolved around the older but wiser women and two husbands who couldn’t hang on quite as long as their wives had. It was around that time at Christmas when Nannie, 94, said that she and Pickie, her 92-year-old sister, couldn’t handle the trips to our house any more. We were stunned. We thought it would never end. It didn’t bother us when Nannie’s vision faded so much that she’d try to eat the pattern off her plate. It was fine when Aunt Ada brought a “dish” of about 16 string beans because she thought they couldn’t afford any more, and we didn’t bat an eye when Spooky added grapes to her formerly fabulous potato salad. We had no problem picking them up and driving them home. But it was too much for them.

When the family gatherings stopped, I co-dependently tried to do “parties to go,” to jolly ‘em up with my meals on wheels, with my college kids thrown in for good measure when they were home from school. “No thank you,” the aunts said. When it was over, it was over.

I think it was a lot harder on me than anyone, and they weren’t even my aunts. I thought for a long time that since I was the most shaken, no one else got as much as I did out of these visits. But I see now that, as a result of those times with the sisters, our grown children genuinely enjoy spending time with their own “older but wiser” people. They all live out of town now, but I notice how they find the elderly in their neighborhoods and churches and take their kids to visit them, even though they’re not family. They’ve even invited them to family birthdays and holidays.

I’m guessing that some day -- not too long from now -- when I am the “older but wiser” one, I may be blessed to reap what I have sown in my own; it’s part of what makes me look forward to growing old. And, oh the stories I will tell at their tables! Did I really meet Art Linkletter and Miss Americas and host a radio show and make my own jams and cook from scratch and live along Lake Michigan? The younger ones will have to guess which stories are true and which have been embellished!

When we live life with honor and respect for those ahead of us on the journey, it sets a good example and it brings deep satisfaction to us and to those we honor. It pleases the Lord enough to bring it around when it’s our turn! As Lev 19:32 says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD!” Find the older but wiser woman in your life; it just might be the time to pick up the phone or go next door and learn what she has to teach you!

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