Words of Wisdom – Part I
June 30th, 2010

The idea for this little duet of posts first came to my mind several months ago.  If I’d had my thinking cap on I would have posted them in conjunction with Mother’s Day.  Alas, I did not.  So here they are now, awkwardly located between Father’s Day and the 4th of July.  Such is life.

I am among the fortunate.  I have two invaluable role models in my life; two women, whose imprint on me is indelible, and whose guidance and influence are among my most treasured possessions.  They are my mother and my mother-in-law.  Over the years the lessons they have imparted have become guideposts for my life, and I find it only fair that the rest of humanity should be equally blessed by their wisdom.  And so here, in two parts, I will share with you some of the most important things they’ve shared with me.

“Listen to your elders.”  I don’t know that she’s ever said it in those words exactly, but that is one of my mother’s marquis mantras.  During our teen years (and beyond) this lesson became a point of teasing and was (is) just as likely to be phrased as “Mom loves old people,” as opposed to the more quotable version above.  Nevertheless, both versions are true. 

The American culture (unlike say, Asian cultures) is not one that values age.  We spend gozillions of dollars trying to halt the aging process.  Hair color, Botox, sports cars, Viagra, face lifts, and the like serve the master of youth.  And in our quest for eternal youth we tend to forget that those who have traveled further down life’s path may have learned a thing or two along the way.  My mother, on the other hand, has never lost sight of that.

Because she likes tangible projects, and because she is a talented seamstress, my mother has participated for years in her church’s Project Day.  Lest its somewhat generic name confuse you, Project Day is a sewing circle of sorts, wherein women from the church gather to create clothes and blankets for needy people – usually babies.  They piece and tie quilts.  They sew little cotton shirts for African children.  They hem receiving blankets and burp cloths.  And the soundtrack to all of this stitching is the telling of their life stories. 

My mother (who was about my age when I was born – I’ll let you do the math) is by far the youngest member of the group.  Most of the women are well into their 70s, and some into their 80s.  Many are widows.  Some have lost children.  Collectively they’ve faced cancer, betrayal, divorce, and children moving away.  They’ve also been blessed by family, health, grandchildren, and community.  They’ve witnessed and experienced all of the good and all of the bad that life doles out.  As my mother aptly put it once, “There’s nothing these women haven’t been through.”

When Mom was in the throes of wedding planning for her daughters, they’d been there.  When a friend was diagnosed with brain tumors, they’d been there.  When her children moved away, they’d been there.  When her first grandchild was born, they’d been there.  And with each rite of passage they handed down their wisdom and perspective as my mother was christened into another of life’s little clubs.

In today’s world of “newer, faster, cheaper” we are inclined to believe that these things always add up to “better.”  But I’ve learned from my mother that this isn’t always the case.  What holds true for cell phones does not bear out when applied to people.  We are complex creatures.  Our elders may not know how to program a DVR.  They may not know how to record an outgoing voice mail message.  They may not understand the humor on 30 Rock.  But they know what to do when your child falls ill.  They know what to say when your cancer goes into remission.  They know what to do when your husband loses his job.  And they know what to do when your garden produces way too many zucchini.

It is with time that we accumulate experiences, and with experiences that we accumulate wisdom.  And it is because of my mother that I both understand and appreciate the rounded edges of an old person’s wisdom every bit as much as the sharp corners of a young person’s wit.

7 Responses to “Words of Wisdom – Part I”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Like you, I think it’s pretty sad that we don’t value the older generations more. They have so much to teach us, if only we took the time to listen. How wonderful that your mother had access to such wise women!

  2. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    This is lovely, Gale, a wonderful ideal for a tribute to these special women in your life. I am sad to say that I don’t have a single connection with the generation older than my parents. My grandparents are all gone and I don’t even have a passing acquaintance with any one of their remaining friends. I too value the wisdom of our elders and am sad that I don’t have the firsthand experience of it in my life.

  3. anne Says:

    Ah, yes. Mom sure knows what she’s talking about. I think it must be why I’ve always enjoyed being around people much older than myself. Or maybe why I often find myself in groups where I’m the youngest. At any rate, she’s right. American culture mocks its elders more often than we respect them, which is a shame. I love the idea of these posts. Very nicely articulated today:)

  4. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Having lived in a culture that does not disrespect its elder citizens, or the aging process, the comparison with contemporary American standards is striking. We render our “old folk” of 50+ invisible, or force them to nip, tuck, and tinker endlessly and often in unhealthy fashion, never feeling good enough.

    If only we still had the communities that were once so much a fabric of this culture, as in others. Perhaps they continue to exist in pockets, but their disappearance is a considerable loss for all of us, of each generation.

    Wise and tender words, Gale.

  5. Eva @ Eva Evolving Says:

    Cheers for your mom! I could just picture the group of church ladies all buzzing, doing their work and chatting, laughing and sharing advice. I love it.

    “And they know what to do when your garden produces way too many zucchini.” Ha! I’m facing that problem right now!

  6. Sarah Says:

    Like the words of your mother, this too is a treasure: “It is with time that we accumulate experiences, and with experiences that we accumulate wisdom.” I could sit and talk with my grandmother for hours. Her calm, wistful view of the world and of her life is refreshing to me, in a world that is so driven by pop culture and parenting books. There are equal parts intuition and experience that still guide her, I believe. And when she speaks I always ALWAYS listen.

    And, oh yeah, knowing what to do with all those zucchini is totally worth it, too! (Loved this line, made me smile wide and happy.)

  7. Ten Dollar Thoughts » Blog Archive » Words of Wisdom – Part II Says:

    [...] Today’s post is the second in a two-part series in which I’m exploring some of the best advice I’ve received from my two best female role models – my mother and my mother-in-law.  You can find the first installment here. [...]