Last year we were given a great gift, a brief moment in time in which we could have the opportunity to connect with my aunt, Mies Simmelink, (pictured with daughter Nelly), and her family. My cousins and I could bring the matriarchs of our family together at the nursing home cafe, and we could enjoy each other’s company. My aunt was 101 years old.
I remember childhood dinners with ten kids along with the adults at her table. I remember (and still have) the dress she sewed for my youngest sister Linda, and my sister Wilma still remembers the kindness my aunt showed to her in a time of trauma.
I find myself missing the presence of the senior citizens of my community in this time of COVID-19 isolation. They have had rich and full lives and survived many hardships, emerging spunky and resilient. They have accrued wisdom. They are my landmarks.
In a recent TED talk by Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an African climate activist, she talks of a time when she brought scientists to her community. When people began to pack up their goods, saying that it was going to rain, the scientists were confused. Though the sky was cloudless, in a short while it began to pour. The scientists were left scrambling to protect their belongings, but the elders of the tribal people knew to observe insect behaviour and take heed. She points out that technology is perhaps a hundred years old, and modern science several hundreds of years old, but that indigenous wisdom is from thousands of years.
We have much to learn from our seniors’ years of experience, and we are the ones who have much to lose when we dismiss them as irrelevant. There is so much potential for wisdom, and for joy in the interaction between generations.
In the last years of their lives, our elders can become focal points, drawing others to them. They are the centres that hold together elaborate networks of community. We are truly blessed by them.