The Benefits of Befriending Older People

October 4, 2012 by  


By Karin Friedemann, TMO

imagesOne of the greatest things about reaching forty is that all people become truly interesting to talk to, regardless of age. When we are younger, we are generally encouraged to spend time socializing with people within our age group, who are experiencing the same life changes and struggles as ourselves. But finally, at a certain point, we reach a plateau and things are not changing that much anymore. We are simply living our lives. Often, we have made certain sacrifices so that we can provide a stable environment for the younger generation to thrive and grow and go through their own changes, very beautiful to observe. Other people come into focus, rather than the mere requirements of our own personal development. As we age, the years roll by faster and faster, like a rock rolling down a mountainside, but we fear less, because we have generally learned what to expect.

By the time we reach forty, we can truly interact as peers with anyone from age 20 to 60. It’s like being on a boat in the middle of a big lake and you can see the horizon from every angle of your vision and only the sky above. It’s a dizzying and electrifying time of life to experience! We are old enough to advise the younger generation on their path, and yet able to question the older generation still living. We must use our social skills to pry the personal stories out of our elders because there is probably nothing more valuable on earth, certainly not cash or gold, than the jokes and life tales of our elders. During my four decades, I have written tens of thousands of pages, but there are still things I have never mentioned to anyone. In many cases, it’s just because nobody ever asked. So, just ask an older person today, anything! Even if you have to beg them to tell you something that will make you really laugh hard or help you gain perspective on whatever it is!
Older people know what things are worth putting energy into and what issues are best to just drop like a hot potato. Heather, a woman with long white flowing hair who is still turning away suitors, who raised 8 children in a 2 bedroom apartment, only one her own, has many stories. Her advice regarding divorce? Her primary regret was that she spent way too much time in a state of rage at her ex-husband. “Think of him as a babysitter who sometimes shows up,” she advised others.

Joe, a semi-retired real estate attorney, admitted that when pressed, he told his wife whom he was planning to vote for. His wife protested in astonishment, and he explained to her that this is why he does not discuss politics with anyone. A brilliant part of growing up is realizing that not everyone has to agree with you, in order for you to love them; And also, that you can love someone totally and completely – without telling them everything. But you can really enjoy the stuff you discuss!

George, a retired musician, is absolutely thrilled by new inventions such as a microphone that plugs into an ipad, and thinks that Youtube is the best new thing since the car. Such things make his face light up like a child.

Leah, a housewife in New Jersey explains: “My first husband believed the conspiracy theory that America never actually landed on the moon, based on the observation that in the photo, the flag appeared to be waving in the wind. My second husband, who was older and remembered that day clearly, explained that it was in all the news back then that the US brought to the moon a wooden replica of a flag waving in the wind, just to look good for the photos!” Many old mysteries can be explained away simply by talking to people who were alive at that time. You don’t actually have to marry them, thankfully, but maybe feed them.

People who have lived through several decades can provide a certain amount of insight that we lack. When we have older friends, we can benefit from their successes and their mistakes. It is especially important to talk to people who have spent time in prison, or overcome major illnesses, for during that time they probably thought about a lot of things that we never had time to think about. And, unlike many of us, they really may have figured out what was important to them and what they wanted to do with their lives once they got their health and freedom back.

When we were young and had no idea about life, it appeared that there were so many choices and so many possible paths. Yet the older we became and the more wisdom we acquired, the fewer choices and paths there remained – because when you can predict the probable outcome of events, you will usually only choose the action that will lead to the desired outcome and avoid other choices. Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri calls it “The Freedom of No Choice” in his book by that title. This is the Islamic Middle Path between the competing philosophies of Destiny vs. Free Will.

If your will were completely aligned with God’s will, and if you had all the information about every variable past and present, you would make the absolutely best choice in every situation. However, in most cases, you are fluctuating in between the opinions of your various internal selves and reacting emotionally. Loss is an inevitable part of going through time on this earth. Only loss enables us to fully experience the value of what we had. As we grow in spiritual experience, we learn which actions will lead to loss, and which actions will lead to gain. At the same time, growing older helps many of us to appreciate and enjoy God’s everyday gifts, like the weather, a phone call, or our eyesight.  The more you learn to pray and meditate deeply with a clear mind, you will more quickly recognize and fix mistakes that you have made as they occur. This truly takes decades of practice.

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