Age = Wisdom. Discuss.

wisdom: the ability or result of an ability to think and act utilizing knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight

In a little under three months I’ll be 56 and whilst not exactly hurtling towards 60, 50 is becoming a decidedly more distant spot in the rear vision mirror!  Along with ‘laugh lines’ and greying hair, the most common cliché you hear about aging is that it brings wisdom.  Just look at popular culture – Gandalf, Obi-Wan – and for those of a certain vintage, Mr Miyagi.  (The fact they are all men is a little troubling and perhaps fodder for future discussion.)  Wise women, in general, seem to always be portrayed as kindly grandmothers or old crones.  (Also somewhat troubling!)  Well my wisdom tells me there are probably a bazillion people out there who are just as clueless in their 60s or 70s as they were in their 20s!  I think the assumption is that with age comes experience and that if you have any internal dialogue or self-awareness whatsoever,  your past experience and experiences will have some kind of impact on your future actions.  Experience, not time,  is what changes you, informs your choices, feeds your fears, encourages you to take chances, isolates you, frees you, compels you to choose certain paths.

According to my mother, my grandmother was a very stern, non-demonstrative woman. She just got on with the business of farming and raising five children, one of whom had Down Syndrome. Of course it couldn’t have been easy but I wonder how much was character and how much could have been her experience with her own mother? My husband’s mother, likewise unaffectionate, lost her father at 11. Did that experience influence the way she interacted with her own children? In my mother’s case, she told me she made a conscious decision to become the opposite of her own mother and succeeded in spades, becoming the most loving, attentive parent a child could ever wish for.  Hopefully, I am honouring her memory by raising my son the same way in the hope he will do the same when he becomes a dad….which, fingers crossed, will happen before they wheel me into Shady Pines!

Friends of mine recently had a baby. Beautiful, healthy baby girl. They chose a name for her that means “bright and shining”. They also happened to have bought my childhood home so she will begin her life in the same bedroom in which I began mine. I wonder what those walls would tell her if they could speak. What would they remember about the girl who came before? Would they even mention that, at 5, she should have been a big sister to a little boy named Robert? Probably not. I don’t even remember my mother being pregnant.

What I do remember is my father never wanting to talk about him. Never wanting me to even say his name. Mum was OK but I never really asked about it, initially because I was too young then, as a teenager, because your focus becomes so steadfastly on yourself,  you know, no-one else matters, least of all your parents. Fast forward to working and living a life and the whole thing drops off your radar completely… until the universe says ‘not so fast’ and slaps you so hard your knees buckle. I must have been in my 20s when my mother, whose friend’s husband had recently died, asked me whether I wouldn’t mind driving them both to the cemetery for a quick visit. One thing I did know about Robert was that he was buried in the same cemetery. I had come across the site record in the drawer where my parents kept their passports, paid bills and other paperwork.  They had never taken me to his grave and I don’t believe they had ever been back since the day he was buried – July 18, 1963 – at 6 weeks old, four days before my 5th birthday.

I rifled through the draw, found the card and took it with me, purely out of curiosity.  In retrospect, it was quite ridiculous how blithe and blasé I was – how totally unprepared I was for any kind of emotional reaction….the possibility never even crossed my mind.  Me, who even at that age, cried at commercials.  I don’t know what I expected but what I found was an overgrown patch of ground, unidentifiable as a grave and a grief so profound I struggle to describe it.   But I understand now why some cultures wail.  Even after 30 years, I can still see myself, just standing there, trying to control great, heaving, choking sobs so my mother wouldn’t hear.   Bereft.  It’s not a word you hear very often but it’s how I felt.  The irony is, that tiny strip of unkempt earth brought my brother back to life, finally made him real to me and every so often, something random happens and I think,  “What would my life have looked like had he still been around?”.

Times and attitudes were different then and I’m sure no-one thought to take a picture of a little sick baby, so I have nothing of him but his name.  Except that’s not really true.  My father chose to remember my brother in silence. That day in the cemetery was the beginning of my realization that there is no “standard” for expressing happiness or sadness.  There are only our expectations.  One of the reasons Lindy Chamberlain was judged so harshly was her stoicism in the face of her daughter’s death and the television cameras.  Why wasn’t she crying, breaking down, showing her grief in public? She must be guilty.  That’s not how a mother behaves.

When it comes to life and how we deal with it, there is no “one size fits all” and recognising that seems the most basic wisdom of all.

             “Wisdom is the daughter of experience.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci



About Daniela S.

I am, what is quaintly referred to, as "over the hill" - but just! Married to an American, I lived in Atlanta for 8 years then was very surprised by my son's creation and arrival one month before my 42nd birthday. We moved back to my beloved Sydney 12 years ago and it is now my absolute joy to be sharing both my deep and shallow thoughts with the known universe.

Posted on April 17, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. As I am fast approaching 70, and recently wrote a piece about my scant memories of my father who died when I was 15, this really resonated with me. Beautifully written.

  2. Thanks Robin but where’s the piece you wrote?

  3. Another well-written piece, thanks so much for sharing. This reminds me of the second night in Shanghai at the fabulous M on the Bund when we all shared intimate stories of our past & cried over our Champers. Hugs xxx

    • That was rather wonderful. But it really makes you stop and think of how very little we may know of the people around us – how many stories don’t get told. I guess that’s the human condition. Thank God for friends…and champagne!

  4. Lovely and thoughtful piece…very emotive. Thoughts of my mother in law who is now suffering with dementia and who also lost a son at the same age around xmas time which became a yearly reminder for her and the boys left behind. She had one well worn photo of him which we had restord for her many years ago and it is the most treasured possession she owns. A timely reminder to look around and be grateful for what you have and cherish those close before they are gone….xx

    • Hi Sammy. Thank you for your kind words. You can’t ask for any more than your writing resonating with someone. My mum had dementia but we were very fortunate as she remembered dad and me to the end. And what a gift that photo is to your mother-in-law. You’re so right about cherishing those close to you. It also makes me aware of how much loss there must be around us that people are carrying around with them. A very compelling reason to always practice kindness. xx

  5. Thought provoking piece. I was so critical of my mother who was very undemostrative. She died when I was 22 so I never had the privelege of an adult relationship with her as I did with my dad. It’s only over years of experience as a mother and the relationship I had with Dad as an adult that made me realise that although she could not show it, she did love her children in the best way that she could. I don’t know what it was that made her so closed off but I have learned to accept that it was not intentional. Janis Ian wrote a song, Honour them all, which brought some perspective to my feelings. The second verse is particularly meaningful to me:
    There’s not a family on this earth
    doesn’t sling a little mud
    Hands get weary, hearts get hurt
    We bow to the flesh and blood
    Oh, people can be cruel sometimes
    It leaves a lasting scar
    but when you put it to the test
    you usually find they’ve done their best
    and as bad as that may be
    it’s turned you into who you are

    So why don’t you honor your father
    Honor your mother
    Honor yourself above all
    Honor the gifts you bring one another
    each time you rise or you fall
    Honor them all

    • Penni, I’m so sorry to hear you lost your mum so early. I had mine until she was 83 and even though she had dementia in the last few years, she still remembered dad and me to the end. We had the most wonderful relationship and I always felt sad for others who didn’t. One of my friends was so estranged from her mother, she didn’t even find out she had died until years later. I’m glad you came to a place of acceptance – and without therapy! I say that because that’s how Jeff finally came to accept that his mother, as you said, loved her children in the best way she could. She didn’t know any other way. Unfortunately his sister never came to this realization and resented her mother for not being the loving, warm, affectionate mother she wanted. She, like my mother, went in the opposite direction which is, I’m sure, what you did as well – “turned you into who you are”. I would imagine though, it still doesn’t make it “right”, does it – because even understanding something doesn’t necessarily take away the pain it caused. Janis Ian is fantastic and that song does say it all. I’ll have to look it up.

      • My sister never really reached peace with it. One of the reasons she chose not to be a mother. Her view was that bad mothering is genetic and she did not want to continue the legacy. A bit harsh. Mom wasn’t bad. She was just a woman of her time who gave up a career that she loved, to be a mother and was unfulfilled. Motherhood did not live up to her expectations. She wanted 4 sons. She was indulged by her Father, brothers and my Dad and was not prepared for little girl competition. She used to jokingly say that she wanted 4 boys but when Penni came along, she gave up. I was lucky to have a very dear best friend, Mandy, who had a mom who loved being a mom and she was my mother figure. I spent more time there than in my house. My sister didn’t have a mother figure in her life. My kids have had a working mom since they were 7 and 4 and I do suffer working mom guilt at times but overall I think it worked out. I overcompensated at times but they are great young adults now so I can’t have got it too wrong.

  6. Well I have to agree with you, definitely a bit harsh but fear stops us from doing a great many things. I don’t think any of us really know what we’re going to be like as parents until it happens. And I also think full-time motherhood is good only if that’s what you really want to do. I decided that since mine was going to be my only one I wanted to do all the volunteering-at-school stuff and I didn’t really have a career, as such, so it was not such a big thing for me. My mum also worked from the time I was very little and you couldn’t find a closer mother and daughter and you’re obviously the same. You must miss Mandy now she’s so far away.

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