I can’t remember a time when old people weren’t a crucial presence in my life. My earliest recollection is of flying across the Atlantic Ocean, and the flight hit a bumpy patch. I would have been 2 1/2 years old, or so, and I vividly remember sitting in my mother’s lap, and then suddenly being in the air. My memory includes feeling my head hit the roof of the plane, but that may have been poetically added later.
Apparently, when we landed in the US, and arrived at my grandparent’s rented home in State College, PA, I was so traumatized by the experience on the plane that I wouldn’t leave the house. And my amazing grandmother took time, reportedly hours, sitting me at a window, and going out to the front sidewalk, and walking in and out of the gate to show me that it was safe to go out.
Our grandmother was truly a matriarch in our family.
She was well-read, and extremely intelligent, but she subsumed her identity into that of her husband, and did her duty to support his advancement in the competitive environment of academia. She raised her three daughters, devoting herself to enriching their public school education with trips to museums, plays, and concerts in the big city of San Francisco.
By the time I met her, she was in her late 60’s, but already crippled by arthritis, which worsened over the ensuing decades. She was an avid gardener, and my sister, who has always loved plants, took better advantage of her botanical knowledge than I with countless walks in our neighborhood, learning the names of flowers and trees.
Later, in my teen years, I became good friends with older women who were friends of my mother, listening to their stories, and learning various skills – knitting, sewing, how to polish silver, how to take care of good linen tablecloths. And these lessons were always accompanied by wonderful stories of travel, and adventure.
I’ve looked forward to being 64 (you know, the Beatles song “Will you still need me, will you still feed me? When I’m 64!”), or older. I anticipate reaching the age of wisdom and experience, with stories to share with those younger than me.
I often think I would like to do more training in Geriatrics, as I find my older patients in clinic and in the hospital to be the richest and most rewarding to work with.
If you need perspective on how trivial your daily concerns are, sit down with a nonagenarian – all your worries will immediately become much smaller.
This post was inspired by The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec, a novel about brilliant mathematician Kurt Gödel as told from his ex-cabaret dancer wife’s perspective. Join From Left to Write on October 16th as we discuss The Goddess of Small Victories. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.