She stared at me with her oh so serious and piercing eyes, chin resting on her hand, and said in a most sincere voice: “I love talking to old people.”
There she was, one of a gaggle of elementary school girls at the first meeting of our new workshop, and these were the first words I heard out of her mouth.
Well, I responded, "I love talking to young people, so we’re going to have a great time together – sharing and learning from each other."
I’ve spent years doing just that - sharing and learning with girls like her – from the very young to those in their teens – for all my adult life. And I must admit that it is the most rewarding of all the work I do.
For when we reach out to our youth and share experiences with them, they learn who we are; who we really are, beyond the obvious wrinkles that caress our faces.
And we learn who they are; together we come to an understanding of each other’s beliefs, values, backgrounds, strengths and foibles. And, through that, we find an acceptance that transcends the negativity that often translates into ageism.
For doesn’t that term, ageism, really work both ways? Don’t we who are the elders, fighting the lack of understanding of our lives and histories, tend to create a reverse ageism as we disparage the younger population for their behaviors?
I recently discovered a poem that speaks to the concept of ageism in a most eloquent and powerful way. Its title: “We Are a River” by William Martin as quoted in his book The Sage’s Tao Te Ching.
Let me read you what I feel is the most powerful section – that which speaks to all of us who fear being dismissed by a society steeped in ageism:
We Are a River (Poem excerpt)
. . .
Don’t accept the modern myths of aging.
You are not declining.
You are not fading away into uselessness.
You are a sage,
a river at its deepest
and most nourishing.
Sit by a riverbank sometime
and watch attentively as the river
tells you of your life.
(By Lao Tsu – interpretation by William Martin)
Our lives continue to be enriched by the years and we must learn acceptance of ourselves in all of our majesty.
We will all walk the same path from birth to the end of our days – let us learn, then, to show those walking behind us that we remain viable and visible by forging our way with strength, dignity, and love of self.
By CJ Golden