Remember back in junior high when, if you were NOT one of the golden children, the perennially popular, confident, well dressed kids, the whole idea of lunch and who to sit with and where to hang out had all this social import. The pecking order was there, established by the small tribes who identified their circle by where they sat. Under the trees, on the fence, near the gym steps, out on the grass by the back fence, each group claimed different values, but you had your group.
We are by nature tribal and these were our junior high tribes. I dreaded lunch, I felt uncomfortable and didn’t like eating in public, couldn’t eat a hard-boiled egg or peanut butter or tuna! Smelly food could open the door to being mocked or teased. Remember how hard those days were to feel confident, to fit in?
Imagine now being 90, frail, housebound, with limited sight, diminished taste buds, bad hearing and weak hands. You are stuck at home with no tribe at all. You do have a tribe, and a huge one, but you can’t get to one another. Your fear of rejection is too high to risk going out and meeting strangers so you sit at home alienated, except for the occasional family member or caregiver visit, and wonder if you are a social throwaway, no longer of any value. And you are depressed.
This is the state of mind of many of our elders. There was a time when they held valuable counsel, but the world has changed too fast. All they don’t understand about technology and modern communications eclipses the eternal truths they DO know.
Yet these are the very conversations we should be having, remembering back to life before iPads and phones, life with conversation and eye contact, life with more feeling, more authenticity, and less spectacle.
Next time you see an elder at the store, the post office, in the crosswalk, ask them about their life, strike up a conversation. They are funny and wry and fearless.They do have wisdom and self respect and pride. Talk to them, ask questions.
You will be glad you asked!