I’m convinced Bill’s (not his real name) main delight in life was exasperating the staff at his retirement home. Out of sheer stubbornness, he rejected nearly everything that they said would be beneficial to him. He refused to wear his hearing aid, choosing instead to let his voice boom throughout the building all day—sometimes he talked so loudly that he scared me right out of my seat. Bill wouldn’t wear his false teeth either, or his glasses, for that matter, so he was difficult to understand at times, he was a mess when he ate, and his eyes didn’t focus properly. And he didn’t shower as often as he was supposed to, so sometimes he smelled.
Regardless, I could hardly get enough of him. The man could make me laugh like very few other people could. Somehow his carefree, bullheaded attitude was a breath of fresh air. He was constantly reminding me that conformity isn’t everything, that sometimes compliance doesn’t make sense. Bill was the kind of guy who made me love and appreciate elderly people a little bit more every time I got to be around him.
In general, people today don’t spend a lot of time in nursing homes or retirement villages. Unless we have a parent or grandparent to visit there, most of us “young ones” stay away most of the time. One of the main reasons we keep our distance, I think, is that being around elderly people makes us think about where we’re headed. We start to wonder how long we’ll be around on this planet, and how healthy we’ll be toward the end. These thoughts and wonderings aren’t always comfortable, so we avoid them. In the process, though, we miss out on some of the best lessons life has to offer.
People like Bill have taught me things that I would have never learned in conversation with a thirty-year-old or a fifty-year-old. No, that level of perspective and clarity comes in much later years. So, I have to ask: How long has it been since you hung out with an elderly person? When was the last time you stopped by to talk to your great aunt, your spouse’s uncle, your aging neighbor? They have wisdom to offer that you haven’t even had the chance to learn yet. Sure, you might develop it on your own eventually, but isn’t it better to let the Bills of the world share a sneak peek?