golden age

I enjoyed Christmas in Cincinnati for many reasons this year: Geoff and Lisa drove in from New York, my mom cooked amazing meals, and Frankie the puppy only peed on the carpet two times. All in all, a successful holiday.

But one of my favorite parts of the week was visiting my friend Mildred. This 91-year-old lady, along with her daughter and son-in-law and grandchildren, has become a dear friend who often shares our Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas Eve dinner. This year a bout with bronchitis and a brief hospital stay left her too worn out to celebrate in our home, so I traveled to hers.

I planned to stay for just an hour or so and leave before she felt too tired. Instead she served me cookies and punch, shared her life story (at my request), and brushed away my offer to let her rest after 90 minutes. “I’m fine,” she said. “Stay put.”

I’ll be the first to admit older people sometimes drive me crazy, for all the stereotypical reasons. But like all prejudices, “ageism” dissolves when it encounters an individual. In our three hours of talking and laughing, I found Mildred engaging, funny, and full of quiet strength. As she described her childhood, her years working as the head cook for a hospital, her bout with measles, her ruptured eardrums as a result, and her two husbands and their deaths, I did not consider her age—just her insight.

The Elder Wisdom Circle, an online community of senior adults who voluntarily answer letters and provide advice to 20 and 30-somethings, proves I’m not alone in craving this kind of guidance. The hard-won perspective of the EWC’s men and women shines through in their responses: “It is never too late to take another look at your choices,” writes one to a young man facing career changes. “Remember that nothing worth doing is easy.”

“You really cannot persuade someone who doesn’t want to be persuaded, and you also cannot change another person,” writes another to parents concerned about their daughter’s choice of a mate.

I love the idea of connecting the generations online, but I won’t be writing the Wisdom Circle—I have Mildred, and I’m already looking forward to our next visit. If he masters bladder control anytime soon, I may even bring Frankie.

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