My aunt gave me a video tape recently. She told me that it was of my grandmother. Apparently in her last years, the nursing home she resided in decided (wisely) to interview their residents. The video tape was the result. My grandmother has been gone for a long time now. The tape was dated 1990.
With a fake fireplace in the middle of the screen, the interviewer sat across from my grandmother. She was very hard of hearing by this time, often having to ask that the question be repeated. And the audio wasn't great. It was hard to understand her responses. In fact, I plan to go through slowly, so that I can transcribe the interview.
She talked about coming over in a covered wagon. She had eleven siblings. She talked about the games she played with her brothers and sisters. She looked down at her weathered hands when she talked about a brother, who was named after a relative who died tragically. The brother died when he drown at the age of two. But when the interviewer asked more questions about what they did in their spare time, she emphasized that they worked. They didn't have a lot of time to play.
Then at the end of the interview, she was asked an important question. "Mae, is there some message you'd like to leave for the little ones? Is there something you'd like to say for posterity?" It was at this point that I asked my son to listen. He'd been playing a video game.
"Brian...Listen to this." I said. "It's my grandmother and she's about to tell us something." I said.
Mae looked up and down and then said, "Don't ever lie and don't steal."
Oh, I thought. OK...that was kind of basic, but good advice.
My son started to go back to his game. But then the interviewer asked again, "Is there anything you'd like to tell your children or grandchildren?"
"Listen Brian. Listen." I said.
He looked at me. "Mom, why are you sitting like that?" he asked.
Unbeknownst to me, I was sitting on the edge of my seat.
Grandma Mae looked a bit bewildered, as if the interviewer had asked a silly question.
"Any message you'd like to leave your children?" she asked again.
"Well..." Grandma started. "I hope they don't live this long. It's too hard."
And that was it. My husband and son went back to whatever they were doing. It was me who was left with that thought. I wanted to cry. That night, I couldn't sleep. I remembered taking my toddler daughter to visit her great grandmother. Did I visit enough? Why didn't I ever pick her up and take her to my house or to the park? I never even thought of that. She was obviously lonely. But I would never have known that. She was always so positive. I would have never in a million years dreamed she'd say those words.
I talked with my husband about it. He had no answers. My parents are now reaching the age my grandmother was in that tape. As I sat in church yesterday, still contemplating my grandmother's words, something occured to me. She no longer had a purpose. She'd outlived her friends and most of her family. She and my grandfather lived in their own home until they were in their early 90's. And then, like many her age, she went to live in a nursing home.
The words, "I hope they don't live this long. It's too hard," were a reflection of a loss of purpose. Sad, isn't it. I think that even at my age, which is less than half of hers at the time of that taping, I can begin to adopt a philosophy of purpose. It's a mindset really- a way of looking at life. Making a difference isn't about your age. It doesn't stop at 70 or 80 or 90. There is a purpose to all of our lives. And perhaps we need to reach up to that generation, just as we reach down to the generation which came after us. Together we form an unbreakable chain. What is your place in the chain?
Write Now ~Karen