Pearl of Wisdom #33: Change, uncertainty and hope. Joan L., Bertha W., and Richard Wright

April 27, 2014

Lesson learned:  I was reminded recently by Joan L., a client of mine, that “change is inevitable”.  When change is initiated voluntarily, it is typically perceived positively.  A new car, hairstyle or job are usually welcome changes that people look forward to. But for many of the 80 and 90 year old clients I serve, change can be a paralyzing concept.  When a long standing routine is altered or a spouse dies, angst, confusion, stress and uncertainty often surface.  This is also true when a move from one’s home of decades is eminent.

When Bertha W., my 90+ year old client was preparing for her move to a retirement community, she acquainted me with the poem below, written by Richard Wright.  As I read it, it occurred to me that this poem could also apply to many of my clients who have and will transition from their homes to retirement communities.  Perhaps it could be a beacon of hope for them as they ponder the uncertainty of the future.

I’ve modified the text within the parentheses to reflect my clients’ circumstances.

“I was leaving the South (my beloved home of decades)
to fling myself into the unknown . . .
I was taking a part of the South (my treasures, my photographs, my memories)
to transplant in alien soil (my new apartment in a retirement community),
to see if it (they) could grow differently,
if it (they) could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom”

Richard Wright

Pearl of Wisdom #32: “Do a good deed for someone in need.” Dorothy J.

April 2, 2014

Lesson learned: I met Dorothy three days after her 90th birthday. She is a friendly woman with a youthful glow and spirit to match. I soon learned that she had devoted her life to her family, education and service to others.

As we sat at her kitchen table, I couldn’t help but notice a plaque of recognition hanging on the wall that had been presented to her by The Karma Club, a group she and three other ladies started in 1983. Its mission, she told me, was to do a good deed for someone in need. For twenty five years, the Club had made numerous gifts to individuals who needed that “random act of kindness”. Happily, and without skipping a beat, she told me about the life experience that inspired the creation of her Karma Club.

It was approaching Christmas when Dorothy, a sophomore at West Virginia College, was one of the last students to leave campus for the holidays. With her suitcase in hand, she entered the ticket office of the nearby railway station and approached the ticket window. With the exact fare in hand, she asked the agent for a round trip ticket to Philadelphia. When he told her the cost of the ticket she paled. “But when I inquired what the cost would be, I was told a lower price. My parents only sent me what I told them the ticket would be.” “Didn’t you realize that you would have to pay sales tax on the ticket?”, snapped the agent impatiently. Frantically Dorothy searched her hand bag for any loose change that could make up the difference. “This is all I have” she said meekly. The agent shrugged, turned and walked back to his desk to continue to read his newspaper.

Dorothy felt stranded and helpless. She knew there was no one left on campus to turn to for help. Tears of hopelessness streamed down her face. “What seems to be the problem?” she heard another voice ask. She looked up and saw an older man standing near her. She told him her situation, gulping back her tears.

“How much to you need?” he asked. She told him the amount and he instinctively reached into his pocket and gave her what she needed so she could buy her ticket. Dorothy accepted the money and thanked him repeatedly. “Please give me your address, so I can repay you once I’m home.” But the stranger declined and instead told her, “Sometime in your life time, you will have an opportunity to help someone who desperately needs some kindness. By helping them, you will be repaying me.” She thanked him again and bought her ticket just in time to board the approaching train.

With her story told, Dorothy’s eyes returned to the plaque and a contented look came over her. I was confident that she has repaid that kindness of seventy years ago many times over.