My growing up culture involved living and working around the elderly. My grandmother, a nurse, administrated a county nursing home for the low income elderly and before that she administrated a home for the indigent aged. I have beautiful memories of accompanying her on her rounds and I loved conversing with the residents. Through my grandmother’s actions I learned to appreciate the stories, passion and general companionship of my aged friends. Most of all I learned respect for people of all ages. My mother, also a nurse, upheld and modeled this culture as I grew up. I actually ended up working my way through college as a nurse’s assistant in a nursing home. Even for the most non-functional bed-ridden patients, I would treat them with respect as I cared for them, including talking to them even if they could not talk back. I would often volunteer to work holidays in double shifts so that my colleagues with children could have some time off – and I loved the work and being with the residents during those holidays when their families did not show up to visit.
In my first 20 years of life, I experienced life, love, compassion, energy, illness, dementia and death. Most of all I experienced the model of intergenerational relations that influenced my continued growth.
Fast forward to my adulthood where I have spent all of my career working with youth, the other end of the spectrum. Through my experiences, I have learned to love and respect the energy, passion, love, creativeness, inquisitiveness and yes the rebellion – along with the challenges they face – of my students (many of them are grown up now and have children – in some cases adult children!). I have loved teaching them, providing housing and food for some of them who were abandoned, playing with them, getting to know their families, helping them apply for college and find jobs and becoming their friends as adults and watching them continue to grow.
Early in my activism life, I came to know and respect Indigenous Elders. Within the community of my Indigenous friends, I have experienced a wealth of knowledge and passion for the life that is given to us from our Mother. I have witnessed the culture of appreciation, community and respect between the generations.
I am blessed. I have a rich repertoire of memories and experiences that span the age spectrum that continue to shape me as a person. As I grow into elder-hood, I appreciate the lenses I have been afforded through my experiences. One of the most important things I have learned, and have vastly improved upon but still struggle with sometimes in moments of my own heated emotions, is the art of listening, even when I don’t agree. And not just to listen, but to sit back and reflect on what I have heard. Often It is not easy to do this.
My hopes and desires regarding the figurative passing of the torch is that we all – of all ages – work together and harness the collective love, passion, energy, wisdom, caring, ideas and fortitude to continue the work to protect life on our planet.