We all want it – that feeling of independence; that sense of pride and purpose; the feeling of being seen and heard.
This doesn’t change with ageing, in fact, for some it amplifies. Such is the case with Hazel Peterson.
“All my life I’ve felt smart and capable. Now, just because I’m old and wrinkled, everyone decides it’s their business to mind my business,” said Hazel. “I just want to remind everyone; my eighty-three-year-old brain has learned a thing or two … I’m still pretty sharp!”
Hazel is a friend of my mom’s, living in the same retirement community in south Calgary. Whenever I’m visiting over the dinner hour, I love to seek her out and soak up her insight of the day. Her political knowledge is spot on, and her views on most other current affairs tend to be informed, enthralling and often entertaining.
But it was Hazel’s articulate rant about seniors and their purpose that really got me thinking. I was glad I asked her if I could tape our chats. I told her I might like to blog about her sometime. She said she was flattered … she said I made her feel like Michelle Obama.
“We may be old, but we’re not just over-boiled oatmeal that you toss in the trash. We’ve done some living, we know some things, it would do the world good to listen to us once in a while rather than stick-handle the heck out of us and wait for our minds turn to mush,” she said loudly.
I chuckled at the visual. Old sticky oatmeal – not this gal! I could tell Hazel was spooling up a bit and it worried me that she hadn’t touched her pork medallions. I thought carefully about how to encourage her to keep sharing without raising her voice and her blood pressure.
“So Hazel, what you’re saying is that you want others to recognize that you still have purpose. You want to be heard and valued. Is that it?” I asked slowly.
Hazel’s face lit up. “You got it sweetheart!” she bellowed. “We’re still here for a reason you know! And it isn’t because we’re having a ball with these old bones and these aching joints. We are here to ground you people. Give you a push back on all your greed and hyped up egos – well – not you exactly, but you know, the crazy things going on in the world today!”
I looked at Hazel, amazed to see a wrinkled blue-eyed senior looking back at me. Shocked that at 83 she is so astute … intelligent … relevant. “Did you happen to be president in your last job? A visionary? A person of influence?” I asked.
Hazel gave a hearty laugh, speared a medallion and put it into her mouth whole. When she could talk again it was softer and with some humility.
“I was lucky to be the assistant to a very fine bank president. He always asked my opinion and he always listened with genuine interest and deep respect. That’s what I miss most about being old … being seen as someone credible.”
I thought I saw a tear welling up so I stopped the recorder and squeezed Hazel’s small warm hand.
“Today – this conversation made me feel like my old self. Well, of course I am my old self! Today I felt like my young self. Thanks for listening,” she said, then she rose, said good night and pushed her walker down the hall.