Thursday, January 3, 2008

"Old People" Wisdom

When I started high school, my parents and I moved in with my Grandma, who was in her 80s, so that my mom and dad could take care of her. Even though I loved my grandma, it was tough living with an old lady in the house. She had rules that I didn't like; most specifically that no "work" could be done on Sunday. It wasn't that I was stellar about doing work around the house, but it bothered me that I was prohibited from doing anything, like my laundry, on Sundays. She also had a habit of making funny noises with her teeth and, of course, she watched all the "old people's" TV shows. Most of the time we got along okay, but one morning I was being particularly bratty about something. Grandma was sitting in her rocking chair in front of the TV and I said something, I don't even remember what, but Grandma got up and slowly walked across the room into her bedroom. She came out with tears in her eyes and a paper clipping in her hand which she handed to me saying, "Maybe this will help you understand." It was a poem she'd cut out of a magazine about how it feels to get old. The gist of it was that the aging person doesn't feel older inside even though she has to walk slower, forgets things and has to put her teeth in a glass by her bed at night. I read through the poem and felt awful! Here was my stooped over, 80+ year old grandma letting me know that inside, in her soul, she still felt like a young woman. What an insight for a self-centered sixteen year old!

Last month I sat in the high school parking lot waiting for my fifteen year old daughter to come out. I looked around at the other cars waiting and saw other moms, like me, waiting for their teenagers. As the kids started to come out of the school I watched as some whispered amongst themselves, some tried to look older, others tried to appear bored by the entire teenage life thing. I easily remember those teenager years and the insecurities, desires, conflicts; the wish to grow up faster and I realized that all of these moms waiting in their cars probably also remember. Yet, most likely, none of the kids walking out the door knows or would believe that we know what they know, we know what it's like. I thought about my grandma and the insight she gave me into her world and I realized that she had also had an insight into my world. Sure, times change, morals change, but the basic experience of growing up is still very much the same and, I'm beginning to realize, the basic experience of growing older is also very much the same. My generation may be more active and in better shape than our grandparents' or even our parents' generation, but what hasn't changed is that the years continue to add up and the physical body continues to age and, gloriously, we realize the wisdom we've been accumulating. We see life in a new way, we appreciate experience, we truly do know more than younger people think we know. While I wish there were some way to magically let my teenagers realize this, I also kind of like that it's a little secret we "old people" can share.

1 comment:

Kate said...

I feel a bit more "grown up," but still just about as young as I did twenty years ago. How lucky you were to have a grandmother who reacted in such a clear and mature way. - Kate