One recent Sunday, I had the opportunity to sit in the church pew between two women I greatly respect and admire. Both women are elegant, understated, humble, independent, strong and generous. Each is in her 90s.
I knew the moment I sat down in the pew between them that I was about to experience something special. I wanted to remain present for the entire hour and soak up every moment. There were admittedly a few times during the service when I looked over at each of them with awe and appreciation, trying not to stare or look silly. Just being with them made me smile, all the while tears welling up in my eyes.
You see, I have known each of these women for nearly all of my life. They were friends of my late mother's, so the connection to them runs deep. Each of them has survived much during her years. Each has had her share of joys and sorrows, accomplishments and losses.
Through their life experiences, these amazing women have become resilient and wise. They have become pragmatic and accepting of what comes their way, no matter how challenging or difficult. They radiate serenity and a knowing. Just being with them makes me feel more centered and calm.
I have always enjoyed being with older people, beginning when I was just a little girl of five or six. Whenever we visited my maternal grandparents, I would also spend time with an older couple who were their next-door neighbors. I always walked away from my conversations with Mr. and Mrs. Crawford feeling as if I had been given precious gifts from them--their time, their attention and their wisdom.
In later years, I had the occasion to hear two older gentlemen share their stories. It was a special evening as the two men recounted their adventures. They had me spellbound. Once again, I felt I was in the midst of a sacred moment, one I didn't want to end. It wasn't too long after that evening when both gentlemen became ill and their ability to share their stories diminished.
As I reflect on those special moments with important elders in my life, I realize that I want to enjoy more such moments. I made the decision that day in the church pew to actively schedule more time with those outside of my age group, especially those who are older than I.
Older people have so much to offer. They should never be dismissed or disregarded. They deserve our respect and attention. The more time we spend with our elders, the more we learn. And the more we learn, the better people we become.
As I grow older and reflect on the years I hopefully will have in front of me, I will strive to gain the type of grace, wisdom, faith and acceptance that my two lovely friends exemplify.
As a society, I hope that we will focus not only on youth and its energy and innovative thinking, but also on those who reside at the other end of the age spectrum--those who have knowledge and wisdom to offer us as a result of long lives filled with experience. When I reach across the years to actively engage an older person and hear his or her stories and wise words, I leave the encounter richer.
Someday, we'll hopefully become those respected elders ourselves and have the opportunity to pass along our own knowledge, wisdom and stories to the next generations. Hopefully, those next generations will feel the richer for the experience, too.