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Beauty in Imperfection: Elders Impart Wisdom to High Schoolers

by Margaret Wachholz

A trip to Kilkenny Castle as a student living in Ireland informed me that tapestry weavers will always leave subtle mistakes in their work as a reminder that only God is perfection.

A trip to our campus was made by Woodbury High Social Studies  teacher Mr. Geoff Stevens and his sociology students this year, the day before their last day of high school.  Instead of grasping for their summer freedom early; we were pleased to see close to 30 Royal seniors arrive.  Our seniors on the campus were eager to be peppered with questions on the topics of economics, heath care & how to retire.  But, I knew they also wanted to interview the students. They know well that life doesn’t go on forever; it could end at any time much akin to poet Mary Oliver addressing the youth: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild & precious life?” 

Students were met by women and men with fearless giant personalities.  They met energetic, strict and occasionally opinionated views. 

Putting things into perspective

Granny Annie counseled the students to be content with what we have rather than always striving for more.  Ardy says that growing older means growing wiser & more joyful.  Mildred, a retired nurse, asked the students to save one buck at a time until they reached $1,000.  “Then, put it away & forget about it for 30 years.”  “Take care of your retirement now!  It is not hard to do,” she joyfully advises.

When speaking about beauty, Beatrice exemplified that grey hair can be stylish. She would likely teach you something about putting things into perspective and valuing spending time with people over sweating the small stuff, as life in in a constant state of change.  She knows, like most at our age, that decay is as much a part of life as growth.

All agreed that we want to retain a sharp mind.   Woodbury High Schools students wanted to compare / contrast what elders focus on or are worried about losing. Forgetfulness and bodily changes were a concern. One of the most painful forfeits in life, according to our elders is losing the use of their vehicle.

The Senior students got up close and personal when older people began talking about this painful experience. The discussion yielded big lessons about driving for 40, 50, 60 years & longer. Then, to be informed to give it up. The freedom that our senior high schoolers were grasping concerned the loss of freedom.  They found out that dealing with systems, rules and regulations can be infuriating for our elders.

Beauty in imperfection

Bill, a 96-year-old returned to his doctor like a renegade whom he blamed for the loss of his license; declared to the doc that he was a ‘son of a gun’ for doing this to him.  Truth be told, our friend Bill used a little more Royal language that this.  It was understandable – Bill, after owning a fleet of trucks, believed the art of driving was why he was put on this earth, not just for breathing & existing.

But, there is beauty in imperfection.  Vivian & Earl were forced to make changes and befriend that which was unavoidable, which allowed them to transform despair into peace.  It wasn’t easy.

Befriending mortality, our limitations & reaching out for help may require a shift in perspectives & attitudes.  We need to help in fortifying hearts & provide a sense of belonging & supplanting fear with friendship.  The business of our lives can get in the way of missing the ‘now.’ We will not be able to fully & truly understand our elder’s language of loss, pain & suffering, but we all sure can help with creating a sense of belonging. We can all be a friend to listen during dark moments of the soul & laugh with each other at total absurdity, and provide a safe & comfortable place to land.

“Richness eventually comes with imperfection,” 90-year-old Vivian tells of her journey.

Margaret Wachholz is the campus marketing director at Woodbury Senior Living.

Photography courtesy of the Woodbury Magazine.

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