“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” Proust
On April 15, 1920 my Aunt Nellie was born. And today is her 95th birthday — Happy Birthday!! Quite fitting that such an independent woman with a fiery spirit and belief in her own voice was born in the same year that the 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution and thereby granted women the right to vote … on August 18, 1920. Baby Nellie was only 4 months old. The decades of her life…the 1920’s 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s …all the way to present day still weave in and out, unfold in her memory with a vast array of people, places, experiences….love and growth, change and disappointment.
In a call to Aunt Nellie this afternoon she thanked me for the little teacup and saucer I sent to her. Just a little something to let her know I always think of our many conversations over the years where we sipped hot tea and talked for hours. I pray that my life experiences will bring me the wisdom and grace that Nellie’s years have provided to her. No doubt my dear aunt received dozens of calls and cards and flowers today from family and friends. Nellie’s gift to herself today, perhaps was a moment spent in the sunny corner of her room to reflect on her life. To think of her journey. She does not speak of her own wisdom. Speaking of Nellie’s wisdom is reserved for those around her, in gratitude over all the years of her life, who have been blessed with a visit or letter or phone call from her where she shared a thought or idea that was completely life changing or comforting at just that time.
A couple of days ago I visited a senior living community and spoke to 10 or so residents about TEAPOTS. They sat in a circle and as I passed around buttons, a little teapot, a thimble and a piece of my grandmother’s apron. Little by little I saw memories come alive in their eyes. I read a few chapters of TEAPOTS and we talked about life in the old days. And simplicity. We spoke of Sunday dinners and families gathering. We talked about visits to the beach and walks in the park. There was no doubt that each person there felt a pang of an old memory and an old time…a time lost and missed. A glimpse back to a time when their lives were vibrant, rich and active. A time when life allowed for looking forward.
The gift to the people in our lives into their later years is to simply be interested and thoughtful…to listen to their stories. Ask questions. Be a part of their memory. Help them stay young. Because they will stay young with each shared memory. Mention an old movie or a song or car. But here’s the secret…the gift really is one coming to us. The gift given to us by an aunt or grandfather or neighbor telling a story from the “old days” — is when a slice of wisdom is shared at just the right time in our lives. A time that is pivotal. A time when we are on the fence. The gift our elders give to us is knowing just what needs to be said and when. Pulling from their wisdom…from their journey and placing it in our hands and hearts. But we can only receive if we are listening.