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Celebrating Our Seniors

Celebrating Our Seniors

Many seniors are disconnected from society, isolated. The world speeds ahead, younger people get busier and busier, and many seniors are unappreciated, not celebrated as they should be. But how do we celebrate them? With impressive festivities? Grand gestures? I didn’t immediately know. So, I reflected back on my interactions with one senior who had a massive impact on my life, and I realized there are three things I could have and should have done to celebrate him. 

I was 12 and George was in his 70’s when I met him, the day that I carelessly trampled a bed of flowers on his side of the property line. Up till then, he was just the strange old man next door.  My parents made me replant the garden with George as penance. At that time in my life, I would have taken just about any other punishment over having to work for the wispy-haired, gnarled old man who wore goggle-glasses and a goofy smile and smelled of rye toast and kippers. 

Youth is wasted on the young.
— George Bernard Shaw

George insisted on delicate, loving care of the plants as we slid them into holes in the dark, peaty soil. 

“They’re like babies. They need lots of love so they will grow up to be strong adults that contribute to the beauty of the world,” he instructed.

I was glad when we were done, and I skipped off to play with my friends without a glance back or a sorry or a thank you.

A few days later I saw George kneeling beside another flowerbed planting more seedlings. He beckoned me over with his broad smile. I reluctantly helped him for a couple hours, all the while worried that my penance had turned into indentured servitude. To my surprise, as I turned to go, he pressed a five dollar bill into my hand and told me I could help him mow his lawn the next day. That job, my first, lasted for eight years, till I went away to college.

The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.
— Robert Frost

Looking back now, I realize that George enjoyed my company as much as my help. It became a form of celebration, the time I spent with him. My presence made him happy. 

The first and easiest thing we can do to celebrate our seniors is to just spend time with them.

I’m sorry to say that for me, as a teen, the money was the most critical element of my time with George. Looking back, I received something much more valuable from George. Every task we worked on was accompanied by a life lesson.

He paired building a rock wall around his patio with a lecture on the foundations and maintenance of good relationships. Fixing an old vacuum cleaner found at the dump was accompanied by a lesson on the value of old things and the continued usefulness of all items and people. Washing the exterior shutters of his house, was a metaphor for being presentable and polished and putting your best look forward. Regrettably, I remember only a few of the lessons and, at the time, did not realize that the value of those teachings far exceeded the generous pay. 

One day, over a lunch of tuna sandwiches at his immaculate kitchen table, George told me of the death of his only brother in his early forties and how he dealt with it. I barely listened, and the salient points of the story skipped across my consciousness and out of my mind. Years later as I watched my own brother’s heartbeat stop after a terrible accident at age 39, I wracked my brain for help from that story, but could not grasp the unattended memories.

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
— William Butler Yeats, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats

I didn’t realize that in telling me all his learnings, George was celebrating his life and I should have joined him in that celebration by listening more attentively to the years of lessons he tried to impart. 

The second thing we can do to celebrate our seniors is to listen to them with intention.

The last time I saw George, he was a shadow of his former self, in his final days. He just nodded weakly as I prattled on about all the extraordinary achievements I had under my belt and the ones I had planned. He tugged at my arm. I leaned closer and he whispered in a raspy voice, “It’s a good thing to be a great man, but a great thing to be a good man. Stay good!”

Thirdly, we can honor our seniors by incorporating their life lessons into our own lives and in that way celebrate them and their learnings. 

I like to think that I’ve followed that last piece of advice from George. 

Thanks, George, here’s to you and your lifetime of lessons. I wish I had actively celebrated you in life by being more present in my time spent with you and by listening to all your lessons, but I will honor you by trying to be more like you.

Open Heart

Open Heart