Thursday, August 8, 2013

The No. 1 lesson I learned from my elders

I remember one 85-year-old grandmother who was known for her generosity — generous with her laughter, with her fabulous cherry pies, and with her time as a tutor to adults who couldn’t read. Every time I went to see her, she had given something else from her condo away — to the TV repairperson, to the mail carrier, to the young girl from the apartment downstairs who was moving into her own place for the first time. Finally, I spoke up to her and said, “I am upset because I don’t want to see you with nothing left.” She sat me down and said, “Sweetheart, the key thing is timing. I would love to time it so that the day I die, I have nothing left.”

This wise grandmother understood a profound truth: We can’t take anything with us when we die. In a sense, when we die, all that we have not given away dies with us unshared. All the smiles, all the laughter, all our capacity for empathy and compassion, even all our knowledge and wisdom. Giving everything away ensures that it, and we, truly live on, either in a grandchild who continues to bake our secret recipe for cherry pie, in a homeless person we will never meet who wears our winter coat, or in the woman who can read.

Read more of Bob Mueller's essay, "The Wisdom of the Elders," in our summer issue of Today's Transitions.

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