When you meet someone old and wrinkly, what do you see? Someone who’s past their best, irrelevant and useless in the modern era? Someone who fits neatly into a stereotype with everyone else the same age? Well there’s a guy from my church called Walter who’s 92, and he’s neither of these things. My Dad and I went round to his house for a bit yesterday afternoon, and I was amazed by some of the things he said! Here’s three things that struck me while we talked:
1) Seize the day! – If I live to be 92, I hope I have so many exciting stories to tell my friends and family! For example, Walter crossed the Arctic Circle during his time in the Royal Navy, and on another occasion his ship was hit by a torpedo and was fortunate to survive! He’s also worked down the mines, and later lost his sense of smell and taste after an accident while working for a scaffolding company, AND only a few years ago showed his immense willpower by changing a life-long habit and giving up smoking. Amazing! These things didn’t just happen by themselves, though; if I’m gonna have great memories to look back on in the future, I need to make stuff happen in the present. I need to be proactive, take some risks, and seize the day, not just sit on my sofa and wait for things to happen by themselves! Not only that, but I want to be a great role model to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren like Walter is. I want to be someone who always lives by the values I hold, even when life makes it really difficult, and who can present my descendants with a pattern they can live by, an alternative to the rubbish ones the world offers. I want to leave behind a great legacy, and that starts with the things I do today!
2) Trust in God – It’s obvious that Walter believes 100% that nothing is impossible with God, and the way he lets this conviction govern the way he lives is inspirational! He’s so generous cos He knows God will provide to replace what he gives away, and he doesn’t worry about things cos he knows God’s in control. As a Christian I believe this stuff too, but too often I think ‘but what if..?’ rather than trusting in God completely like Walter does. Think what incredible things God can do through us if we totally trust in Him and don’t let our doubts get in the way!
3) Don’t judge a book by its cover – Yeah it’s a cliché, but it’s so true! If I hadn’t made the effort to get to know Walter as a person, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hear about his amazing experiences and learn from his wisdom. Not only would I have missed out big time, he’d have missed out on my friendship too, something that elderly people are sadly often deprived of, especially from younger people. It’s so important to get to know who people really are, then, and to dig deep rather than judging them on appearances, both for their benefit and for ours.
So next time you talk to an elderly person, are you going to see their wrinkles as signs of their age and of their difference to you, or marks of their struggles and the wisdom they’ve gained through overcoming them? Are you going to look past their bodily weakness to the unbelievable strength of mind that may be hidden beneath their aging exterior? And are you going to disregard them as a relic from a previous generation that doesn’t belong in our technological age, or engage with them as an individual and appreciate their uniqueness? Walter’s warm smile and firm handshake as we said goodbye made it clear how much it meant to him that we’d done the latter, and I left feeling privileged that I’d had the chance to talk to such a great man.