During college I stumbled into working at a place that I never thought would happen for me---a Nursing Home. I viewed these places of care with unfair stereotypes of odd smells and little else.
I was wrong.
I learned that it was rich with lessons to learn and practical ways to help those in need. I would listen intensely to people that had lived the history I had only read about. A Mom that lost her son at D-Day... A man who oversaw moving secret documents across Europe during WW2... Surviving the great depression through hard work... and so much more! In many ways I felt like a sponge soaking up the wisdom that surrounded me by people that had lived so much life and learned to strip away what didn’t matter and deeply embrace that which does. There was an attitude, and even more so a philosophy, that many of them had learned through the struggles and pain in life that had produced a deep resiliency.
One lady I will always remember was Marion. She was ninety and had been living on her own and decided it was time to get more support. She always had a smile and a wonderful story. As she sat in her favorite chair, I would kneel and hold her hands and she would tell me stories about growing up on a farm, raising six kids, having so many grandkids she couldn’t keep up, and so much more.
One day completely out of the blue I asked, “Marion, what do you think is the most important thing in life?”
As if she knew I was going to ask the question, and with that trademark smile, she said,
“Always be kind”.
I have thought about that many times over the years. Kindness is not just being friendly- it’s an act of compassion that involves seeing the value of the other person. Marion was a people magnet. Family, friends, and staff were always present. I used to joke, “That if you want to talk to Marion, you might need to take a number.” Even at ninety she would remember people’s names and if she didn’t yet know you, it was simple, you were “honey” or “sweetie”. She did not care about the color of your skin, the job you held, the income you made or the status you held.
Each person mattered and they felt it. They knew it.
Many times, the most important lessons in life are not found in the next new thing, but with the abundance of understanding that comes from those that came before us. We need both the new and the old. Sometimes we can walk right by the wealth of opportunities in the people that we know in our lives.
Think about someone you know that you admire and has lived some life, and ask them what I asked Marion;
“What do you think is the most important thing in life?”
You might learn something. It might not be new, but I bet it’s something you need to hear.