I have a friend named Stella (a pseudonym), who will soon be 89 years old. She recently informed me that she had just taken delivery of a new car.
I quizzed her about the new car.
“There’s no gear shift, just a thing you turn!” she said. “And there’s a button to start it! I couldn’t get the cruise to work, but I don’t think I was doing it right. I asked a friend to help me figure out all the switches, and suddenly the steering wheel was warm!”
Stella is awed by all the new things to learn. Awed, yes, but certainly not overwhelmed. These are challenges that she will confront and master, just like the other challenges that are part of being on the doorstep of her 10th decade.
She has lived an important and full life. She is also a fine storyteller and, as I listen to her recounting the chapters that are good and the chapters that are so very hard, the tears come easily and naturally. So does the laughter, the sense of delight, the sense of wonder at the many things yet to learn, at the wonder of the opportunities set before her.
Until this past year, Stella lived alone in her own house. It’s been some years since her partner died, and she finally decided that it was too much. Now she is in a suite in a condominium, and she chuckles a little sheepishly at the ruckus caused when she left a pot heating on her stove while she went out.
“I asked the caretaker if I would be evicted,” she said.
When Stella touches on her stories of loss and grieving, she observes that, while you are in the middle of those hard stories, there is a sense of, “How will I ever survive this?” And yet, from the perspective of great age, her reflection is in the line of, “I guess those things too will pass.”
Stella and I rub shoulders frequently when we volunteer at the local food bank. She lifts, carries, heaves, encourages and laughs. When children appear, she is on the scene with treats. When clients show up whom she remembers from decades past, I occasionally see her dancing with them joyfully as they recognize each other.
The food bank is only one avenue where she offers her energy and encouragement. She has a gift, a passion, for encouraging those on the margins. In her paid working life, she was ahead of her time in offering that gift of affirmation and delight to folks on the edge.
There are stories in the Bible—Jeremiah and Isaiah come to mind—where God’s chosen people, even though they find themselves in difficult straits, are encouraged to plant vineyards, to build houses, to live hopeful lives, even when the future seems bleak. The challenge I sense is one of living hopefully into a new reality.
That’s the lesson that Stella and the new car represent to me. Stella has important places to go and important things to do, and this new car represents her determination that nothing will stand in her way of getting to those events. Stella makes a difference.
First Nations spirituality and culture remind us of the importance of holding up our elders, recognizing the important lessons gleaned through many decades and many stories, of recognizing the wisdom that is offered out of those rich lives, and then honouring those lives and those folks as having a spiritual blessing to offer.
I have been blessed to have a number of elders in my life, at whose feet I choose to sit in my determination to live well, to live as God challenges me to live.
Thank you, God. Thank you, Stella.
Ed Olfert (firstname.lastname@example.org) gives thanks for community.