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Guest Blogger Clair Jean: Older People

While I am away in New York City for a couple of weeks, a fantastic group of elderbloggers and elderblog readers agreed to fill in for me. Today it is Claire Jean who writes: I am 67 now and both my husband and I were born and continue to live in the Northeast. I work full time; my husband has been retired for several years. I enjoy reading (mostly non-fiction), poetry, swimming, trips to New York City, meeting friends for lunch, reading Ronni’s blog each day, time with my two grandchildren and, recently, watching women’s college basketball.


Let Me Grow Lovely
Let Me Grow lovely, growing old -
So many fine things do;
Laces, and ivory, and gold,
And silks need not be new;

And there is healing in old trees,
Old streets a glamour hold;
Why may not I, as well as these,
Grow lovely, growing old?

- Karle Wilson Baker, The Best Loved Poems of the American People (1939)

Older people, as far back as I can remember, afforded me a sense of well being. To this day, I’m able to find comfort by mirroring images of those gentle faces in my mind while remembering their names as well as the many kindnesses they so generously bestowed upon me while growing up.

Now that I am probably older than some ever lived to be, I wonder - could they ever have imagined how valuable they were then and continue to be even more so now these many years later.

The stereotypical rubbish attributed to aging is not only untrue and cruel but can be quite damaging. Unfortunately, when older people are told that they become invisible, lose their usefulness, health, etc., it can jeopardize a sense of who they really are and might still become.

How can it be any different when television commercials, magazine articles and the like assure us regularly that they have found new and improved ways to help us look and feel younger. The message they send is clear. Growing older is a bad thing.

When someone I haven’t seen for some time remarks that I haven’t changed in twenty years, I’m tempted to reply, “You mean I looked sixty-seven when I was only forty-seven?” The discomfort regarding old age is at such a level it compels some to pretend that aging itself doesn’t exist; hence the foolhardy comments.

Unwelcome age-related remarks at my workplace in a department where the median age is fortyish have not gone unnoticed. However, they have become much less frequent and not nearly as troubling. Hopefully, my colleagues realize by now that I don’t intend to leave the workplace because of age. After all, we older people have had plenty of time to learn and know that no matter what we do, we’ll never please everyone so we must do what’s best for us and our families.

My job requires contact with college-aged students many of whom seem pleased to see and talk to me. When that happens, it’s a win-win situation. We’re able to share ideas and hopefully learn from one another. On the other hand, one can sense the fear and/or surprise when stepping into my office for the first time and seeing someone who by now perhaps resembles grandmom. One can only wonder what their apparent uneasiness suggests.

If only older people were recognized for themselves, instead of the group society has painted them - if only.

Who Are My People?
My People? Who are they?
I went into the church where the congregation
Worshiped my God. Were they my people?
I felt no kinship to them as they knelt there.
My people! Where are they?
I went into the land where I was born,
Where men spoke my language…
I was a stranger there.
“My people,” my soul cried. “Who are my people?”

Last night in the rain I met an old man
Who spoke a language I do not speak,
Which marked him as one who does not know my God.
With apologetic smile he offered me
The shelter of his patched umbrella.
I met his eyes...And then I knew...

- Rosa Zagnoni Marinoni, The Best Loved Poems of the American People (1939)

EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, The Elder Storytelling Place is on hiatus. You can read past stories here. And if you are inclined, you could send in stories for publication when I return. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.

Comments

This is a lovely commentary on growing older, Clair Jean. I, too, grew up around older people and always enjoyed their company. I'm sure that was partially because they made me feel they enjoyed my company, too. We treated each other with respect and talked with each other about interesting matters. That's how I want to be treated now.

Claire Jean,

I enjoyed reading your comments and the poems you included were touching.
Here's another that I like from the same collection:

A little work,a little play
To keep us going-and so, good day!
A little warmth,a little light
Of love's bestowing-and so,good-night!

A little fun to match the sorrow
Of each day's growing-and so, good-morrow!
A little trust that when we die
We reap our sewing! And so-Good-bye!

George Du Maurier

Lovely poetry! Lovely thoughts!!!
Thabk you!!!

Clair Jean, you are a beautiful writer. Your sense of humor is precious!

I am impressed that you continue to work. Every time I garden for a new senior, they motivate me to keep doing what I love. These seniors are becoming my friends. I learn, over time, as they trust me with their gardens, all about their lives. When they invite me in for a coffee, they show me their photos. What a treat it is to hear their stories. Today, Jane, a sweetie showed me her son's skis, boots still on, from when he was 17. She is only now ready to send them on to the recycling bin. The skis were leaning against the side of her house, like a sentry. All those years ago, worn boots and old black skis, all the trails they rode. Her son. Her precious man-son.

I love the way you write.
The poems touched my heart. I must have this book.

I was touched by the poems and impressed with your well written essay.

Your very generous comments are much appreciated…Thanks a bunch!

If only! Thank you for a beautifully written post on being old.

The poems are so lovely and contain such wisdom.

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