“You probably won’t take no advice from me. I never took none myself, you see. It’s just when you get older, you like to pass some on….but nobody’s listening.”
Like a lot of people these days, my Facebook page is filled not just with friends, but is also loaded with band pages, science pages, TV show pages and other interests. One of those interests that I follow is a page called Native Americans. It is a page filled with Native American wisdom and sayings, not just from one nation or tribe, but from across the United States. A few weeks ago there was one saying I felt compelled to share with my friends. It said-“When an elder speaks, be silent and listen.” I am not sure what tribe it comes from, but the simplicity of it really struck a nerve, and the other day I thought it might be helpful to start this section off with it.
I was glad I saw it because in preparing this series I really had some trepidation about writing about the “winter” years of our lives. The years we grow older and eventually pass on. Part of the reason is because unlike the other three seasons, I have not experienced it yet. Mild jabs at me for being 46 with my formerly red hair changing first to a brownish hue, and then speckled with ever increasing dabs of gray aside, I do not feel old. Regular gym workouts and trying to eat as healthily as I can help. But the other reason for the trepidation about writing this section is I did not want to sound smug or condescending about the aging process. Which is why that Native American saying really made me stop and think.
After I posted it, Jennie helpfully reminded me that it is a great quote….but it means you need to practice implementing it a little more. And she was right. Too quickly as a society we tend to ignore the learned words of our elders. It isn’t just about our families, our moms and dads or grandparents that we do this to. We also get very impatient with seniors in line at the grocery store, or walking in front of us on the sidewalk. We get annoyed with the elderly when they seem oblivious to the technology we have long since conquered. “What is this Facebook thing I hear so much about”, or ” how do I send a text message”? I realize as I myself get older that there will come a day when the world will be moving too fast for me to keep up, or even care about it, so fast and changing is the technology era we live in.
But take a moment and replace the faster internet speeds and smart phone technology, wireless connectivity, automation, and other cool advances and gadgetry that we live and thrive with in this era, with the advances from another era. Mass produced automobiles, commercial radio, television and polio vaccines among countless other things were inventions created and developed in the years when today’s elderly were younger. They understood all these things thoroughly at the time, but sometimes our cynicism in these days must make someone who lived through earlier advancements feel exasperated and defeated. What is worse is the advice passed on from our elderly often gets brushed aside.
I think it is this final point that is behind blues man Seasick Steve’s song, “It’s A Long, Long Way.” Steve is a man who payed his dues and then some, and had been plying his trade across the world for years and years when suddenly, he gained success and a devoted fan base a few years ago. Steve definitely tells it like it is. In the song he sings from the perspective of an even older man, desperately trying to get people to pay attention to his words. It is so brutally honest that you can’t help but feel moved by it. So whether it is from a Native American phrase, or from the mouth of Seasick Steve I hope for a time when we treat our elderly with that sort of respect. Not judging or assuming but learning. And above it all….listening.