After church this morning I went next door for the scheduled social event, but I sheepishly admit it was mostly to snack on a few of the baked goods and grab a quick coffee. Usually I’m a chatty and friendly enough character, but this week I’ve been pre-occupied with some clouds on my horizon, and feeling therefore under a shadow, not really much in the mood for socializing.
Soon after I was establishing myself in my little corner, a frail older woman was escorted over to my table by one of the younger women hosting the event. By her body language I understood that it would be appreciated if I could keep the elderly guest company during her brunch. Which I dutifully did.
And boy, talk about being at the right place at the right time, meeting just the right person: I got all the lessons I realized I've been needing, delivered as clearly as if they were wrapped in a box with a big ribbon around it.
My unexpected dinner companion had a mind that was as sharp as her body was frail, and I left over an hour later with my mind bursting with good advice and my life enriched by seeing such a great example of how to live the life we're given.
What an active person: she was still an eager student, still memorizing poetry, as a hobby, and casting around for another language to start learning, to add to her French, Spanish, German and Latin, on top of her native English. She explained her philosophy about keeping the mind exercised, and the good that it does us in doing so. She was a widower, yet like my own grandmother who outlived her husband by a good twenty-five years, she was kept in good spirits through continued contact with her family, enlarged now to include many grandchildren. The pain of a terrible loss had been balanced by an eventual great gain, and therefore there was much to find to smile about.
Same with her studying; she made light of how one’s mind can so easily forget names or dates, as new gets piled on top of the old. So long as new memories keep coming, it’s not so bad to lose track of some of the older ones they seem to replace. This was of particular comfort to me, since I’ve been noticing all too clearly of late that my memory is frankly not what it used to be; lately I’ve been reflecting on when my mother starting fretting about losing her memory, when she was my current age, and I see now I never truly understood the depths of her frustration until I recently started sharing the same fate. There may not be anything we can do to stop it from happening, but there was a way demonstrated to me this morning, of learning to bear it with grace and good humor.
Lest it mistakenly seem like I was captive to a lecture, let me quickly add that she asked many questions of me throughout our long conversation, often leaning forward as she would inquire, "what do you think about that", so that her personal observations could be tested against my own experience. It was more important to her to learn what’s right, than to learn that she was right. If only I could develop more of that kind of curiosity... well, maybe now I can, now that I see how successfully it contributes to keeping the mind sharp.
I was probably most impressed to hear of her ready acceptance of computers into her life. Most people past a certain age are intimidated by them to the point that they simply declare they are too old to learn such new tricks. But she was, completely knowledgeable about the internet, as one example, seeing how wonderful a means of communication it was. I can only hope I will be as courageous when I reach her age, in embarking on learning new things when I know going in to them that I will be doomed to spend a lot of time struggling to get a handle on them. It’s all a matter of standing back and adopting a long enough long-term view, so that the good lying wait in the future can be seen to tower above the struggle of the present. Given the trouble I’m having this year with adapting to a bewildering (for me) barrage of new technology at work, here was a teacher that came along at just the right time to give me the little boost I most needed.
There’s much else I could add, such as the incredible series of coincidental areas of interest that we shared. Maybe I’ll put some of that in another post, someday, on the prevalence of coincidence in life, as compared to fiction.
When I debated on even going to the after-church event this morning, given how downcast my mood was at the time, I never could have imagined I would be leaving it as empowered as I ended up becoming, thanks to the renewal of enthusiasm I picked up from my new acquaintance. Goes to show that no matter what the circumstances, we can just never "know" what the future has in store for us.
Maybe that’s the hardest lesson to learn of them all… To age with humility.