This I Believe

Patricia - Stockton, California
Entered on December 19, 2006

November 1, 2006

Dear Friends and Families of St. Luke’s CES,

It has taken fifty years, but as an educator for over half those years, I like to believe there are no slow learners – just some to whom truth is revealed at different times. I have been given endless opportunities to recognize the obvious since the day of birth, and perhaps I have had occasional moments of recognition earlier than I admit. Today, however, I awoke to the fact that we are sitting on a growing intellectual gold mine in America. As the expected life span continues to expand there are more and more elderly persons available – enough to go around for all the youth of this country who might want to avail themselves of this option. Yes, it is the elderly who hold the answers and store the wisdom of the ages.

Contrary to popular belief of the teens and a few disgruntled adults who are unhappy that their parents are spending the inheritance now, we have a large generation of collective wisdom living next door. They are the living history books who remember not only what people did before cell phones, but can recall as far back as when there may not have been phones at all in the home. The escalating gas prices don’t panic them since they recall the hard years of the war when gas and tires were rationed. Additives in their food aren’t a concern because they still raise their vegetables in their garden organically. Vintage clothing stores, the hip shopping places near university centers, are a way of life for those who grew up mending and sharing clothing with siblings of several ages. Martha Stewart ‘tag sales’ are simply another way of expressing the adage, ‘Waste not, want not.”

Several years ago our education system went through a phase of adding ‘values curriculum’ to the schools. Several of my elderly friends wondered when the schools had stopped expecting children to behave like well-raised mannerly children who understood what truth, respect and integrity were all about. They had raised their children on these fundamental principles that were now being touted as curriculum. It saddened them to think that a generation was being brought up without basic Godly principles.

Recently I visited Grandpa Castles, aged 98, late on a summer evening with his daughter. I was amazed to hear him speak of how he often stayed up until 2 AM or 3 AM in his studio. Foolishly I jumped to the conclusion that he couldn’t sleep until he corrected me and said he wished he had time for more sleep these days. When I queried about the hours he kept, he simply replied, “I am working on building my career in music and there aren’t enough hours in the day.”

Tom Castle’s comments jogged a memory of my own Grandma from years ago. We were gathered for a Sunday dinner and I had not seen my elderly Grandma for weeks. I sat at her side and asked what she had been up to recently and was met by her comment, “Not much. My Parkinsons has slowed me down to the point of molasses along with my old age.” And then she launched into a litany of helping butcher two hogs, rendering lard, making sausage from scratch, finishing one of the fifty afghans she crocheted for raffle at the National convention each year as a past Gold Star National President, and weaving me a room sized rag rug for the dorm on her loom on the days she could get up and down the stairs to the basement. I remember feeling tired when she finished with her account of what she had accomplished that week.

This fall I attended the anniversary party of Mary and Eugene Smith. They have been in love for 60 years of wedded bliss. They could be named the poster children for marriage as it should be; listening to Mary speak of her ‘big guy’ when he is at the Barbershop trimming a friend or two makes one wonder if ever there were a better suited match. They are the quintessential parents to their own brood as well as many of us ‘wish-we-weres’ of the family. The door is always open, the coffee always brewing, and advice is given only when actively sought. They have the wisdom of ages and often recognize that the only way to learn is to go through it yourself. They ‘share and spare’ when possible but are always there to listen and offer their hand if one falls of one’s own accord. Free advice may consist of new recipes to psychological counseling. One never leaves their presence without feeling they have been given a gift.

As we approach the holiday season, we begin by looking at all the blessings we have in life. Which elderly persons will you put on your list as a blessing? And as we move on towards Christmas one’s thoughts turn to gifts. I encourage you to give the gift of your time this year. Reach out to an older person, perhaps a neighbor or relative or person you see regularly at mass, and listen with your heart to the story they share. In being the gift, you may receive a hundred-fold from them as they share themselves as well.