Sunday, April 19, 2015


My husband & I were speaking to a young man a few days ago. This is someone who has been in our circle of acquaintances for over 5 years. We know both his parents, we know his brother, we know many of his friends, he knows our son, but I realized he didn't really know us at all, where we've been, what we've done, our accomplishments, or what’s important to us at this time.

This got me to thinking about something that has been rolling around in my mind for a few years now. Something about getting older, that most young people probably don’t know at all. I know I didn't when I was younger.

It is how we fade away or disappear while we’re still here.

I’ll back up a bit and see if I can clarify what I mean.

5 years ago, we moved to a new city and state after living in California for over 30 years. We came here for several reasons, and one was to help a particular group that is close to our heart. So, we knew a few people, some from So Cal, others as friends of friends, but no one here really knew our history, our story.

Then a few years ago, I started to lose some friends, meaning that they passed away. One in particular was someone we’d known for nearly 30 years. He was part of a couple who have been long time friends of ours. The effect this had on me was pretty profound. It was as though a piece of me was gone. 

When you lose a long time friend or partner, someone who has been there for years, someone who knows a large part of your story, because they've been viewing your life from their view and position in space for decades, it is as though a piece of your story fades away. That person’s view of your life, their years of participation and knowledge about you is suddenly absent. It makes one feel as though you are fading away a bit yourself. Then I lost a few more, people I've known well or a little for many, many years. More pieces of my story dropping out of the picture.

Am I making sense? Does anyone else understand this?

There’s a tradition in some cultures that I really like, but it has become a lost art form in most places. It is how one introduces oneself to new people. You are asked to tell your story. This is so people get a good understanding of who you are and then know who they are speaking to or dealing with. You don’t tell a made up story, you tell the real one. Your lineage, your accomplishments, where you've been and what you've done, as a person. Its not just a resume, it is the story of who you are and how you got here.  Of course the older you are, the longer the story.

When my husband and I were speaking with this young man the other day, there was a lot of assumption about who we are, and a lot of missing information about our story. We had assumed he knew more about us, and he had assumed he knew all about us. We were all wrong in our assumptions, and we were all a bit surprised by what we discovered. Since we were discussing the possibility of a working relationship on a project, it was important to me that he know a bit more about us than he thought he already knew, more than just the tiny corner that gets exposed in purely social encounters.

I think it is one of the things I treasure most about long term relationships whether marital/ personal or friendship. They KNOW your history, your story, the good, the bad, the ugly and the wonderful. There’s a lot less explaining to do, because they already know most of it. They "get it", because they were there at the time. They played a part in your play in some way so usually know the overall script.

In this modern era of social networking, instant information, Facebook, tweets and texts, it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we know all about someone or something when we really don’t. I've made this mistake many times myself. There’s no substitute for one on one conversation, in long letters or emails, over coffee, over dinner, on a trip together, recreating together, and just listening. There’s no substitute for hearing someone out fully, no substitute for a hug or a touch.

So what am I trying to say? 

Don’t assume you know someone until you've really gotten to know them through both observation. experience and communication. Don’t assume you know why they do what they do unless you've taken the time to get the whole scoop and gathered enough understanding of their story. You don’t have to agree with everything, just listen and understand, and let them know they've been understood. Fragments and glimpses aren't enough to really “get” someone.

To younger people out there, I suggest you take the time to really get to know some older folks in your lives. Get their whole story, go beyond the wrinkles, gray hairs, or eccentricities to find what lights up their eyes, and don’t let them fade away or disappear before they are actually gone. Don’t be so impatient, there might actually be more to them than you can currently see.

To those who are my age or older, don’t stop broadcasting your story to people, especially to those who actually care and might be interested. Your story is important to someone, including you, but it’s up to you to make it known. Return the favor by really getting to know the younger people in your lives, be patient, listen, they do not have the hindsight of years that we do. Validate their energy, hopes and dreams even if they sometimes remind you of your own lost dreams.

To everyone, including myself, I suggest we tell people now and regularly how much you love and appreciate them both young and old. Don’t wait. Too often we do and end up sharing our accolades at a
 memorial service where the one person who needed it most is no longer there. Just don’t wait, do it now, do it publicly, lovingly and lavishly, do it personally, pick up the phone, invite them to dinner, to tea, to a picnic, or write them a long letter. Tell them what you like about them, what you appreciate about them, what you love laughing about with them. Be interested in their whole story.

We are all pieces of the puzzle of each other’s lives in some way. Any piece that goes missing leaves a hole in the picture for both parties. As in a puzzle, the piece on its own isn't as easily understood, but when you understand how it fits into the wider picture, its unique purpose, contribution, value and beauty can then be fully seen and appreciated. 

Just like the people in our lives. 

Thanks for listening.

1 comment:

  1. I love this~~~

    When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.
    Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

    One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in magazines for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

    And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this 'anonymous' poem winging across the Internet.

    Cranky Old Man

    What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
    What are you thinking .. . when you're looking at me?
    A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
    Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
    Who dribbles his food .. . ... . . and makes no reply.
    When you say in a loud voice . .'I do wish you'd try!'
    Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
    And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
    Who, resisting or not . . . ... lets you do as you will,
    With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
    Is that what you're thinking?. .Is that what you see?
    Then open your eyes, nurse .you're not looking at me.
    I'll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
    As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
    I'm a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
    Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
    A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
    Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he'll meet.
    A groom soon at Twenty . . . heart gives a leap.
    Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
    At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
    Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
    A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
    Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
    At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
    But my woman is beside me . . to see I don't mourn.
    At Fifty, once more, .. ...Babies play 'round my knee,
    Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
    Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
    I look at the future ... . . . . I shudder with dread.
    For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
    And I think of the years . . . And the love that I've known.
    I'm now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
    It's jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
    The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigor, depart.
    There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
    But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
    And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
    I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
    And I'm loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
    I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
    And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
    So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
    Not a cranky old man .
    Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. .... . ME!!

    Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within. We will all, one day, be there, too!

    PLEASE SHARE THIS POEM (originally by Phyllis McCormack; adapted by Dave Griffith)