Wisdom from the elderly


Talking over dinner last night, my friend Robbie and I agreed that even though we live in a media-flooded world, with just about any information seconds away at our fingertips, it's almost always enriching to have a conversation with someone considerably older.

Chances are they're wiser than us, and have experienced some things that are worth passing on. 

I met Ben today. Standing in his front doorway wearing a plaid shirt, suspenders, and a dirty white Sleepwell ball cap cocked at an angle. He immediately grabbed my attention and, metaphorically, my ears. He's turning 91 soon, and has been married for 68 years — "to the same woman," he grins. He's Belgian, but they met during the War in Estonia, where he told me it was easy to find a girlfriend because most of the Estonian men were in work camps in Siberia.

The couple came to Canada when their son was six. Ben worked in Ontario with heavy machinery and diamond drills, tenting in the 30-below winter on one of the hundreds of lakes south of James Bay. He saved enough to come to Vancouver, where he found employment in a scrap-metal outfit. With hard work and a quick mind, he advanced in the company until he was able to retire at 45. His son became a biologist, teaching first at Oxford and then retiring to a position doing salmon research at the University of British Columbia. Ben has a lot to be proud of, but, like most men of his generation, is matter-of-fact about it all. No hubris in this hombre.

What he's most proud of though, is the way he takes care of his wife. She's been blind and stricken with Parkinson's for a number of years. They're staying self-sufficient and independent as long as possible, "Or else my empire will collapse," says Ben. Caring for her is a full-time job, and he views it as his state of life now. He'll bring her to help with the household tasks, asking her how to do things he knows very well how to do, like sorting the laundry. This makes her feel she is valuable and contributing, even though she is physically capable of almost nothing.

He told me that one night at bed time she came and sat on his lap and put her head on his shoulder. She was sobbing, "Why does this have to happen to me?" He let her cry it out until she was quiet. Soon he started humming and singing an old Estonian song she used to sing as a schoolgirl. In the middle of a verse, he pretended to forget the words, and she helped him. After a little while, he pretended to forget again, and before long she was softly singing with him, and a little smile of contentment and peace lit her face. "We're not unhappy," he says, and I don't think they ever will be. 

God bless you, Ben.




Fraser Field, Jr. "Wisdom from the elderly." Catholic Education Resource Center (July 17, 2012)

Printed with permission of the author.


Fraser Field, Jr. is a twenty year old university student and occasional musician. He is the son of the managing editor of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2012 Fraser Field, Jr.

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