Are You a Crazy Old Person?

holding hands old and youngWhen I was 15, I had to spend an extended stay in a military hospital in Texas. Because I was going to be there for a while, the nurses spared me from a bed in the open ward and told me I could have a semi-private room. The only catch was that my roommate would be a woman they called Crazy Sally. “Why do you call her that?” They explained that she was old, and she rambled a lot, and sometimes screamed at night. Great.

Still, the benefits of a semi-private room outweighed my trepidation.  My new, old roommate had recently had surgery and was having some trouble with her meds. By the time I settled into my new bed, Sally had settled as well. Crazy Sally wasn’t so crazy after all. Because I had become somewhat of a fixture on the floor, many of the nurses knew me and would stop in to chat, but they sort of dismissed Sally…so I talked to her. Sally was probably in her late 70s. She had joined the WAFs (Women in the Air Force) at a time when it was rare to find females in uniform.

Sally’s body may have been aging, but her mind was still incredibly sharp. In the late afternoons, after her nap, Sally would recount the most amazing tales of her overseas tours of duty. My favorite story was of a dinner in opulent surroundings that she and three other WAFs shared with a visiting Sheik. She didn’t have any family to visit her in the hospital, so I became her granddaughter for a time. She was happy to share her adventures with me, and I was thrilled to listen. The staff missed a great opportunity to get to know this wonderful woman.

We’ve all met people like Sally. Maybe it’s a grandparent or an elderly neighbor who tells a story we’ve heard a dozen times. But the next time you hear the beginning of that same old story from the war, or the old country, or about walking to school barefoot in the snow…uphill…both ways…for 10 miles, please don’t roll your eyes and tune out. You are experiencing an ancient oral and aural tradition. That’s how stories were passed down and learned:  by repetition. Most people don’t write down their life stories. They pass them down to their families by speaking the words. Treasure those moments and be thankful you get an opportunity to hear the story again. And be sure to remember all the details so you can share it with someone else.

Now that I’m older, I understand the desire to share what I’ve learned. I want to help younger generations avoid pitfalls and hurt. But all they want to do (as I did when I was their age) is figure it out for themselves. I remember as a toddler defiantly telling my parents, “I want to do that by myself.”  (I hear those words echo from my children’s mouths all the time.) Did I touch the hot stove? Yes. Did I burn my finger and cry? Yes. Was I able to convince my own children not to touch a hot stove? Of course not.

I also hear my mother’s voice in my head saying “Just wait until you have children of your own.” Yes, Mom. I get it now.

Perhaps I was blessed with just a modicum of extra enlightenment in my youth that helped me appreciate the words of my elders even back then. I can only pray that at least a small percentage of the knowledge and experiences I try to impart to the young ones is taken to heart and can make their lives just a little easier or painless. We “old people” really do have some valuable knowledge to share sometimes. Please ask. And listen. I try to do that everyday.

I leave you with this lovely poem I recently saw posted on Facebook:

I Am Not Old

I am not old, she said
I am rare

I am the standing ovation
at the end of the play

I am the retrospective
of my life
as art

I am the hours
connected like dots
into good sense

I am the fullness
of existing

you think I am waiting to die
but I am waiting to be found

I am a treasure
I am a map
these wrinkles are imprints
of my journey

ask me

~ Samantha Reynolds

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