A recent article written by Mandy de Waal of The Daily Maverick regarding the “life’s lessons from those who have lived it” resonated deeply within me. In it she described the Cornell Legacy Project of Dr Karl Pillemer who asked “some 1500 wise, elderly Americans for their response to the question: ‘What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?’
Their responses formed the basis for his book 30 Lessons for Living. Mandy writes: “It seemed ridiculous to Pillemer that in a media culture that worships youth, and a society that turns to electronic media for advice and knowledge, the wisdom of the elderly was getting lost.”
For the full article, reproduced with Mandy’s permission, see http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/02/life-lessons-from-those-who-have-lived-it/
Living in Fish Hoek, a town where there are many very dynamic retired people involved in a range of social, recreational and community-orientated activities, I thought it would be a great project to plumb some of them (all over 60 years of age) for their wisdom. I was gratified to receive the following responses and invite our readers to add their pearls of wisdom to the string. Your name will not be published if you would prefer anonymity.
“Without giving it “deep” thought: I’m 72 and have learnt to enjoy the moment and be aware of love surrounding me, to accept things coming my way without worrying too much and to be more open-minded and tolerant of others’ views without sacrificing my own”
“One of the most powerful lessons I have learnt is to depend on yourself so you don’t demand attention from others emotionally. What I mean is to be kind to yourself, develop yourself, find a strength in yourself through meditation, spiritual growth (whatever is your path). It is so common and easy to demand from others what you should be providing for yourself. That puts an unfair strain on those you love. It is not anyone else’s job to make you happy, or to fulfil you, or to satisfy your needs.
It doesn’t mean you become selfish or insular. It actually helps you become more able to give because you are “topped up” inside. So you can consider others freely and love generously. It prevents manipulative loving and selfish demands. Also because you have allowed yourself that development, you allow others to do it too.”
“Most important lessons? Well, yes, but something that has become more and more clear to me as my seventy five years continue to slip by is that there are lessons aplenty but to place them in descending order I find impossible. Life is a tapestry of wondrous and awe inspiring proportions and a look at the picture depicted in my tapestry will show that it is made up of myriad threads, many if not most of them of insignificant importance, and yet the removal of just one of them will change the picture of “me” . This dependence of thread upon thread makes clear to one that every decision taken during one’s life, even the very minor ones, has a consequence and from here it is but a short, logical step to realising that one is responsible and accountable for one’s actions. Maybe the decisions that you took were forced upon you by circumstances beyond your control but that is only the reason why you took them.It doesn’t in any way alter the fact that you are going to own the consequences. When you reach this stage you are at ease with yourself. Nobody to blame but yourself. Nobody deserves more kudos than you. Things come into balance. Calm and contentment descend.
But I digress. My apologies.
It was Winston Churchill who, when invited to deliver the valedictory address at Eton, stood up, turned to face a hall filled with Britain’s most advantaged youth, and said in resonant tones “Never, ever, ever, give up” and resumed his seat to somewhat delayed but rapturous applause. He was talking in the context of the recently ended world war but in broader terms he was talking about persistence.
This is a trait that I have learnt to admire. It does not mean persisting stupidly with a concept that patently is not working. It also does not mean obstinacy. It means not believing that you are beaten and continuing to seek a solution to the problem; maybe through dogged hard work, maybe through the application of a different approach. It’s a state of mind which,if developed, can take you to heights you would not have thought possible. Never give up.
As the years slip by at an ever increasing rate one begins more and more to be aware of one’s mortality. The great mystery of death is on the horizon. One looks back at inexplicable successes or changes in fortune and one wonders, “Was that coincidence? Or was that the manifestation of a greater power influencing the direction of my life?
I believe in the latter and as a consequence I view my impending death with equanimity. More importantly, this frees me to live the remaining time that I have to the fullest. Not necessarily rushing all over the world but living as my heart dictates. If this life is merely a prologue and death nothing more than the starting point for a more wondrous existence, my days are filled with joy. One needs to believe in something. It’s an old saying that “If God did not exist, man would need to invent him”
Where there is faith there is love
Where there is love there is peace
Where there is peace there is God
Where there is God there is no need
Time to stop my mental ramblings. If you want me to summarise:
You are responsible for you
Persistance pays off
Faith (in anything) brings peace of mind
“Having learnt countless of life’s lessons during my 72 year journey on earth – many of which were extremely difficult – the one I find myself referring to again and again, is how absolutely wondrous each of us – the members of humankind- is in our uniqueness.
The very odds stacked against my birth or yours are so incalculably huge that one’s existence surely demands a sense of gratitude and responsibility to enable each of us to invest what we’ve been given, back to and for the benefit of others. We have a unique purpose, talent and gift deep within. It is our duty to find and nurture it, then share it with our fellow travellers for their ultimate good. Love, gratitude, enthusiasm, perseverance should be our intent – a determination to leave every place situation, relationship a little better for our having touched that space, that finite moment, with our presence. “
“The kingdom of God is within. To become aware of this is more important than anything else . Nothing “out there” is as important as this becoming a reality in one’s life.
Ask questions and look for the answers …. questions like “Who am I?” ” Why am I here? ”
Learn to meditate. Make it a daily discipline – begin and end the day from the inside out…
We can’t judge others because we haven’t walked in their shoes.
Giving and receiving are the same.
You WILL suffer – none of us escapes suffering. What is important is our reaction to what happens.
Find a spiritual path which will lead to unblocking the obstacles to Love’s presence within – Buddhist, Christian, Hindu – whatever -“
“You ask what I regard as vital elements towards success are:
1) Self belief. In all situations to act “AS IF” I already was the winner. That the can do/ no problem concept can prevail and that I can give my best shot. Walk Tall. 2) In dealing with people (of any rank), to talk on the YOU/THOU rather than the I/ME principle. In other words to encourage people to talk about themselves, and I have learned much from how they have made their way through life. 3) To leave my ‘Thumbprints’. In other words, wherever I go, to leave a situation ‘improved’ because I was there. 4) ‘You gotta Dream, for if you don’ have a dream – how you gonna have a dream come true?’
Think ahead, sort out the hills before they become mountains, and plan for the better road ahead! Dream for ‘The Big One” and move towards it a bight at a time – as you would eat an elephant.”
And for my two pennies’ worth: my parents inspired me with their love of the outdoors, their close family bonds, their involvement in projects relating to the handicapped and to animal welfare, their involvement in election campaigns …. I benefitted, and still am benefitting, from the depth and longevity of their friendships, their spirit of adventure and their generosity. And I am grateful for the part that they played as positive role-models in moulding the ethos of my own family and the personalities of my sons.
Link to information about the Nerina 1000 Club
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