Monday, 11 April 2011

Lessons from the bus stop

By Aurora @ IslandDreaming

One of the joys of public transport is that you regularly end up in conversation with interesting folk you wouldn’t otherwise meet. Waiting at the bus stop yesterday, an elderly lady struck up a conversation with me. I think that she had noticed the gardening magazine in my handbag and the conversation quickly progressed from small talk about the weather to the joys of gardening and growing food.

She and her husband had maintained an allotment at my own allotment site for most of their adult lives, only giving it up when they turned 80 and the journey to and fro was getting a bit much. She spoke enthusiastically about all the benefits she had got from maintaining it and how she had passed that on to her daughter and grandchildren. She still involved herself in the community, regularly attending the jumble sale near the allotments where everyone went to sell off their excess plants and have a chat over a cup of tea. She still maintained her home garden, took the dog for long walks every day and socialised regularly.

The lady had been visiting her husband at the hospital where I work. He is 86, deaf and almost blind. She sighed and confessed that she was annoyed that whilst he was elderly in years, he was also now turning into an ‘old man’ in front of her eyes – he was becoming obstinate and curmudgeonly – and he had absolutely no excuse for it in her eyes. I reflected that she was lucky to have made it through 64 years of marriage before this happened - I have a 29 year old curmudgeon at home after just 7 years together. It turned out the allotment had played an important part in keeping her marriage fresh – ‘you do need somewhere to go to escape from each other every so often’.

My own darling 29 year old curmudgeon was dragged in for humorous effect only I must stress. However, the contentment expressed by this lady during our conversation is something I have rarely come across in my own age group. Success has been judged in our culture by how much money you have, how many degrees you have, how big your home is and how many expensive shiny toys you own (and how often you replace them). In short, just how much of the planet's resources do you consume on your way through life? The end result of this thinking for many is worry, restlessness and ever increasing debts - and it is very hard in the midst of misery to change tack and find a happier direction. 

This lady was friendly, good humoured and active, still interested in the world around her and obviously had a family and community that she had built and involved herself in. No doubt she had made many wrong turns in life, but at some point in the preceding years it seemed she had struck upon the formula for a contented life and ran with it. For all I know she may have had a big house, degrees and lots of shiny toys, but they weren't important enough for her to mention them during our meandering chat. Based upon what she had told me, she had led a good life. 

One day I would like to look back on a long life and wax lyrical about the contentment I had experienced and the lessons I had learnt (and my gardening successes and failures).  I would like my success to one day be measured by the good feeling I had engendered, the wisdom I had accrued and the damage I had repaired, or at least the damage I hadn't caused. But what if I don’t make it to such a vintage? There is no guarantee that I have all the time in the world to build friendships, potter about the garden, look after my health and well being, smell the flowers and find meaningful work to do – and share the fruits of it.

How will you know if you have lived a good life? What changes are you going to make to get there? When are you going to start?


David said...

Aurora, I've already started about seven years ago. It all began back when hurricane Katrina came bashing through the south and leaving a trail of destruction. My church began to send teams to the devastated areas to help with the repair. I found my passion in life and have been on at least 20 trips all over the south and have even had opportunity to drive a gift van from Nebraska to Nicaragua. That's right all the way down through Mexico, Guatamala, through El Salvador and Honduras, and into Nicaragua. In addition to the big stuff I find that there are many opportunities to help right in my neighborhood and city. It's a great life if I just don't weaken.

Have a great passion filled day.

dixiebelle said...

I will know I have a lived a good life, if my husband and my children, and grandchildren, and maybe great grandchildren, love me, and want to spend time with me...and we have a healthy planet and a happy world to do so in!

Donna said...

My hubby is a disabled vet.He has a brain injury and PTSD.He cannot work a regular job,and 2 years ago we decided that we would work our property together. We started a raised bed garden (which we are expanding this year from 9 boxes to about 16 or so). We have chickens and turkeys,hopefully to expand to goats at some point. We make our own maple syrup,can food,make laundry soap,hand soap,baked goods and candles.We compost. I am teaching myself how to knit.This helps my hubby feel,as he says,"useful."
Going through what we have has brought us (and our 13 year old son!) closer together,and working side by side is an added bonus.I love working for our family. It makes our lives good ones!

~Courtney~ said...

This is an interesting question that doesn't get asked quite enough, I believe. And it's one that's been nagging at the back of my mind lately. Earlier today, I was in a toy store looking for a birthday present for my niece. But I couldn't buy anything- all I saw was waste, landfills full to the brim with pieces of plastic painted to look like strange creatures. I don't want to teach my niece that owning a certain toy will improve her life.

The philosophy of 'living simply' is perhaps cliche and overstated these days, but it is so for a reason. A full life is just what that older lady had- community and purpose. Not things.

Aurora said...

Sorry for the late response, my internet connection has not been working.

Dixiebell - I agree that the need to feel connected - whether that be to family, community or humanity as a whole, is central.

David - Dramatic events often seem to help people take stock and change direction. What awesome opportunities have come your way as a result.

Donna - that is terrific progress to have made in just 2 years; you and your husband are doing genuinely useful work!

Courtney - I had a very similar experience recently. I couldn't even find many toys that children could enjoy together - everything seemed like it was designed to be played with safely at home, indoors, alone. I too walked out empty handed (and in a bad mood).

The Improbable Farmer said...

Toys are absolutely the hardest thing to find AND the hardest thing to not get others to buy wastefully. It's hard when others don't have the same sentiments when buying presents.