I once went on a date with a girl who confessed she hated old people. I’m not sure how it came up in conversation; but she listed ‘uncontrollable bowels’, ‘wrinkles’ and ‘that, you know, um, funny smell’ as the three reasons she couldn’t stand being around anyone over eighty.
It didn’t matter that she ticked every other box on my wish list, the fact she couldn’t see the benefits of being mates with an older person left me puzzled and pissed off. (OK, it didn’t help she spoke to my dog like a baby).
You see; one of my life theories is that for every hour you spend talking with an elderly person – you’ll learn one new life lesson, therefore saving yourself extra stress and strain down the track.
It’s all in the numbers. An eighty-year-old has an extra sixty of life experience than I do. So, why can’t I just try and learn from all of their past mistakes and save myself making the same ones. They’re like portable versions of Wikipedia. That’s why this entire debate about employees needing to be bribed to hire older people has me puzzled.
Sure, I understand that friendships between teeangers and oldies aren’t all that common – but once you push through the obvious differences, you quickly learn that we’re all the same. It’s also important to remember to be patient and respectful. If they’re someone you’ve just met, chances are it will take them time to start sharing facts. If your own grandparents aren’t around, visit a local nursing home and become a volunteer. Or you can even spend time with a PROBUS or LIONS club.
I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve spent more time in nursing homes than the average twenty-year-old. No, don’t worry, I don’t just show up. Even though a nurse once threatened to call security because I’d been hanging around the medication room for so long. The truth is I thought it was a bathroom and was waiting for someone to come out.
But with my three of my own Grandparents marched down the sterile corridors and into life’s metaphorical waiting room over the last few years, as a regular visitor, I’ve met dozens of fascinating residents and carers.
I even worked as a kitchen hand in a nursing home last year. And in that time I didn’t just learn how to make an award-winning cuppa – not too hot, not to cold – but I learned firsthand about the pain that dementia can cause, the fact that schoolyard politics never ends and to make sure that I make the most out of every moment that I’m still kicking and completely independent.
But that wasn’t all:
I learned that one of Geoff’s biggest regrets was not taking control of his alcoholism much earlier in his life. Perhaps then he could have kept his wife from leaving him, and given her the life he knows she deserved. Lesson? I stopped drinking so much.
I learned that Mary quit her much loved job as a typist, because she was offered more money to work as a bank teller down the road. To this day, some forty years later, she still regards that decision to ‘sell-out’ as one of her worst. Do what you love, with people you respect. Lesson? I took a job I’d been dreaming about, even if it meant taking a pay cut.
And I also learned that Stella’s youngest son, Michael, who suffers from autism, was the reason she was always nervous to sit with new people at the dinner table. In the past other women had been to afraid to sit next to her because they thought her sons condition was contagious. Lesson? One of the biggest problems people with disabilities face is the ignorance of others not understanding about their conditions. Since then I’ve made sure I regularly read ABC RampUp.
Had I not broken free from my adolescent attitude where I thought I already knew everything in the world, and taken time out over the last few years to talk to the oldies, I’m not sure where or when I would have learned some of these vital life lessons. I’m a much, much better person for it.
So, you fellow Generation Y rascals, it’s time to wake a Nanna up from her nap, wrestle a Granddad away from his gin, and ask for some help navigating life’s tricky twists and turns.
You won’t regret it.
Sean Power is a twenty-year-old radio producer who spends too much time on Twitter. You can follow him on Twitter at @POWERSOZ. He’s also written about growing up as an Aussie male here, and appeared on Mamamia on Sky News here and here.
What lessons have learned from an older person in your life? Did your Grandparents ever give you some words of wisdom?