This summer held a special place in my heart. It was a time of many memorable experiences and notably trips with family including my 87-year-old mom. I share my home with my mother; therefore, I see her regularly. I realized from recent summer trips, that even though I see her frequently, the current experience of sharing life with her away had not been as robust as it could be. As I work I often start using this “busy” excuse. During the past year, I have often witnessed my mom take the necessary precautions that many elders have employed to protect their health by distancing based on the global pandemic. This is still the case for most elders.
Observing my mother reconnect with the world, share with family while offering her perceptions on life, this summer, gifted me with some contemplative gems to hold onto. One of the most enriching experiences we can provide for ourselves is the time, reverence, and respect to listen to elders in our life. One of the most difficult times to come to terms with is our own mortality. Many lean back when faced with the experience of aging instead of leaning in. In our Western culture many elders are sidelined or not sought out. Because of this pandemic we have been forced to pay attention to the immediacy of a virus that affects seniors in life threatening ways. This pivotal time can invite us now to pay more attention through kindness and interaction as we have been given the opportunity to stop and engage.
While on our family summertime excursions my mother mentioned, on occasion, feeling invisible to society. I encouraged her to not think these thoughts and proceeded to ask her where these feelings came from. She proceeded to give examples related to the lost gesture of others opening doors or the absence to stop and help and feeling unnoticed by others. Our society idealizes youth but when we are able to experience the wisdom of our elders we learn to preserve traditions, which increase the quality and meaning of our lives.
There are many cultures that revere their sage members of society with only the highest respect. In Japan there is a “Respect for the Aged Day” and it is not uncommon for many generations of a family to live under one roof and care for one another. For many years, after explaining that there are three generations in my household, with one being my mother, I am responded to with puzzlement. Many explain they could not tolerate nor be patient with being so close with a parent. This response has always felt to me like a lost opportunity for others.
The reciprocal beauty I have personally witnessed in my family, based on having such close living quarters and an environment of sharing, is profound. My 87-year-old mom is sharp as a tack, and able to provide value to her family. Even in the midst of feeling societal invisibility, she has not felt ignored by family or accepted loneliness as her prescription. My 19-year-old daughter has been gifted by her grandmother with lessons on integrity, unselfishness, gratitude, and authenticity. I have stood in this circle with the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of watching my daughter grow up and my mother age. I acknowledge within myself when I try to push back with challenging emotions that come with this territory. My difficulties, in adjusting and learning to soften and be more receptive to the beautiful side of the experience, is a priceless gift in the face of the challenge to live fully.
As our health and wellness increase, and society heals becoming stronger in its foundation, we must shore up our senior’s self-worth through kindness, interaction, and involvement in community. These wise members of society deserve not to feel lonely but treated as individuals with a depth of knowledge that help us all witness wisdom incarnate. Our lives do not end in old age. They rebirth at this juncture with an insight that can only be possessed after living a worthwhile and meaningful life.