Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Elders Speak

The Elders Speak
Elders are everywhere and their numbers are growing worldwide. You see them on the streets, waiting for buses, in stores and banks. All of them were born in the 1900's. They witnessed horrific wars and the evil one human can inflict upon another in the name of religion, nation, or culture. Yet, they persevered and in many cases, thrived. Surely they have something to say - perhaps some words of wisdom about their longevity, what they'd experienced in life, or advice to the younger generations of the 21st century.

Because my travels took me to various places this year, I asked the Elders I met on these trips the same two questions. What's the most important thing you learned in your lifetime? What's the one message you would leave for your grandchildren? Sensing that these were important questions and should be answered properly, all of them took time to think before answering.Their answers were unique, varied and compelling. These Elders stood out not just in their comments but in their attitudes about life. The oldest was 99, the youngest 78.

Buddy, a Korean war veteran walks the beach at dawn most weekends. His metal detector which looks like an extension of his arm distinguishes a unique tone when gold or silver is discovered under the sands. With headphones tuned to the sounds, he shared stories of his many finds. His answers to my questions were short and concise. In answer to the first his eyes got a faraway look. Then he said, "Too many guys died in Korea." In answer to the second: "Wars change nothing. We don't belong there!" Realizing that the scars of that war still held Buddy, evidenced by the Korean War Vet baseball cap he wore, I changed the subject and asked him what he thought about when he walked the beach. He said, "Nothing. My mind is calm and clear." And then he went on down the beach listening for the high pitched hum of gold.   

Gladys, the oldest at 99 and last of several siblings grew up in the mountains of Tennessee. She's hard of hearing now but every day she exercises her swollen legs and ankles by pushing her tennis-ball covered walker around the block. If you say "Good morning, Gladys" she responds, "I'm fine." If you ask her "What time is it" she responds "I'm fine." So her answers, simpler than Buddy's, were surprising and humorous. She said of the first question, "Get your hair done every week." And of the second, "Gotta keep moving." She does.
Bob, in his mid-eighties, was in great shape. Walking briskly across a trail in southern Utah he was delighted to engage in conversation. He talked about his Mormon faith and of the blessings and bounty it had brought to him and his wife. He proudly revealed he had eight children, forty grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren. I said, "Bob, I'd like to ask you a question or two." Before I could actually phrase the questions he answered with such confidence that I knew he'd given it thought long before our conversation. He said, "Three things. Be charitable. Always have a good attitude. And last, believe in something greater than yourself." Then he repeated, "Don't forget charity. It all starts there and that's due to God's blessings."   

Betty is the 90 year old last surviving Elder matriarch of four generations. Her blue eyes sparkle when she tells stories, some of which are punctuated with an infectious laugh. She does the daily newspaper crossword, her record to completion, mid-morning. "Keeps the mind sharp" she tells me. The greatest thing in her life was her three children, though she grew sad recounting the story of her stillborn first son. I asked her if she believed in the afterlife. She said a few months after her husband died she saw him sitting in his chair. He called out her name. I repeated the question about the afterlife, but she only replied, "I don't know." When I switched
to the last question, what message would you leave for your grandchildren, she got very serious so I expected something profound. Instead, she put her head back into the sun's rays and said, "Laugh often - even if you have to laugh at yourself." Then she bubbled in laughter.   

A Buddhist loving kindness mantra goes like this: May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings find peace. The simple messages of the Elders to future generations incorporates all those attributes. And, they could be made a part of any spiritual practice. Be well by getting your hair done (Gladys) and having a good attitude (Bob.) Be happy by doing something enjoyable (Buddy's treasure hunting on the beach) and laughing (Betty.)  

And last, finding peace. Each of these Elders had a message for that. Bob said believe in a higher power and give to charity. Betty said she didn't know when asked about the afterlife though I could tell she thought of it often. Buddy said we should avoid war. And Gladys summed it up well by saying we should keep moving. For movement is the sound of lives being lived in happiness, wellness and peace! 

Jo Mooy - September 2014