Arriving at the temple a few minutes early, I hastily accepted the welcome I received at the recommend desk, but also wanted to linger in the cool breeze next to the doors. I made my way into the foyer and then I saw them. Not the friends I was intending to meet, but a few of the dear sisters who are part of my ward family. The collective twinkles in their eyes; various shades of white, grey and silver (with maybe a titch of blueing) in their hair; the shadowy wrinkles–born of both furrowed, worried brows and of generous and loving smiles–were beautiful to me. I bowed to gently embrace each one. Four of them. All widows. I have lived here long enough to remember the losses of each one of their respective husbands. Some who went suddenly, unexpectedly in the night. Some who lingered and suffered with illness and pain. I know their children. And some of their grandchildren. Sometimes I contemplate both their joys in their posterities and also the the loneliness inherent in their widowhood.
Lovely, humble, faithful matriarchs, each one.
They are why I sometimes arrive a minute or two late to fulfill my primary calling, as I am wont to stop and hug them every Sunday on my way from the chapel. Mindful (thanks to a commenter on a Segullah post oh so long ago) of the power of touch and the ache of longing for it when one lives alone. They love my children and my family. They always ask about my missionaries (they’re both home now–Hooray!) and my other children by name. They are quick with a loving and encouraging word when we face hard times. They are my sisters. And even generations apart, they are my friends.
I like old people.
Even the crotchety ones.
I still remember some 20 years ago when I did a little housecleaning on the side to help make ends meet. I braved the ancient and antiseptic scent of an elderly couple’s home and their anger when I inadvertently tossed a crust of bread away while cleaning up after their lunch, too naive to understand the frugalness of an entire generation of people who went hungry during the Great Depression. I cleaned their aged teal refrigerators, sinks and toilets (I’m sparing you details here, you’re welcome). I wiped down their plastic-covered floral sofa and chairs. And I tried to be friendly even though I was uncomfortable and they could hardly hear a word I said.
Now, as every day I get closer to halfway to 100, I am mindful that the body ages, but the heart is young. Aside from a mortgage and too much suffering and dying around me, I don’t feel any more a grown-up now than I did at 20. Part of me wants to eat dessert for breakfast, play instead of work, and laugh instead of cry. And sometimes I do. As I recall my dear grandmother’s sharp wit and my grandfather’s penchant for chocolate, I’m sure it can’t be much different at 95 or 98.
Sometimes old people are funny. Sometimes they are ornery. Sometimes they are sad. Sometimes they can be a bit ignorant. Sometimes they are wise. Sometimes we fear them. But that’s probably only truly necessary when we see them driving down the wrong side of the road (I could tell you stories).
My husband Shane had the opportunity to speak at the funeral for one of his uncles. This particular uncle had a reputation as quite the curmudgeon. But in his later years a return to his Savior had softened his heart. (In fact he became close friends with my grandmother when they ended up in the same assisted living center.) As my husband looked out over the congregation–mostly family who hadn’t enjoyed the opportunity we had to spend time with Uncle Hilton in his later years–Shane issued a bold challenge to the younger generations to spend time with old people. Learn to love them. Learn something from them. For they have lived a lot longer and seen a lot more than we have. They have much to teach us if we will get over our fear or discomfort and get to know them.
I try to meet his challenge.
My sweet elder sisters had just finished their weekly shifts serving in the temple. They teased me about hurrying up and getting my children out the door so I could serve there too. I assured them I hope to serve there some day, when the season is right.
As we say our goodbyes, I know I want to be just like them when I grow up.