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 from home had not been as often as it could be. As I work, I often start using this “busy” excuse. During the past year, I have witnessed my mom taking the necessary precautions that many elders have to protect their health by distancing, and this is still the case.
One of the most enriching experiences we can provide for ourselves is the time, reverence and respect to listen to the elders in our life. Observing my mother reconnect with the world and sharing her perceptions on life with family gifted me some contemplative gems to treasure. One of the most difficult things 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. This pandemic has forced us to pay attention to the immediacy of a virus that affects seniors in life-threatening ways. This pivotal time can invite us to pay more attention through kindness and interaction as we have been given the opportunity to stop and engage.
While on our summertime excursions, my mother mentioned occasionally feeling invisible to society. I encouraged her not to think these thoughts and proceeded to ask her about the source of these feelings. She gave examples such as the lost gesture of others opening doors, the absence of people stopping to help, and just feeling unnoticed by others.
Our society idealizes youth, but when we can experience the wisdom of our elders, we learn to preserve traditions that increase the quality and meaning of our lives. Many cultures revere their sage members 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, when 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 such close living quarters and an environment of sharing, is profound. My mom is sharp as a tack and able to provide value to her family. Even while feeling societal invisibility, she has not felt ignored by family or accepted loneliness as her prescription. My 19-year-old daughter has been blessed with lessons on integrity, unselfishness, gratitude and authenticity from her grandmother. 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, sometimes acknowledging and other times pushing back the many challenging emotions that come with this territory. My difficulties in adjusting and learning to soften and to 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 seniors’ self-worth through kindness, interaction and involvement in the community. These wise members of society don’t deserve to feel lonely but rather treated as individuals with a depth of knowledge that helps 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.