This is how I want to be when I'm nearly 97
This week I took my teenage kids up to Sydney to visit my nearly 97 year old Pop who is now living in a residential care place.
It went down like this. I asked them: "Hey, kids. Do you want to come with me to visit Poppa?"
Not one of them said no. Not one of them had to think about it for even a moment. When I told them they didn't have to come if they didn't want to, they looked almost astounded, like why would she think I wouldn't want to go? Is she some kind of crazy woman? (I'm convinced they often think I'm crazy, by the way. It's in those teenage looks they give me...)
So we went up to visit Poppa. My kids sat with him, held his hand, helped him up, got him drinks. They listened to him and they made him feel valued and respected.
Now, I'm not telling this little story to paint my children as mini-heroes of visiting the aged and fragile. They're just kids.
The true hero in this story is my Pop.
It's because of who Poppa is that my kids want to visit him.
We all noticed two things about our visit to Poppa lat week. First, was that Poppa does not complain. He could complain. He could complain about his dry, sticky eyes which are painful pretty much all the time. He could complain about not being able to get around like he used to, and having to use a walker and a wheelchair. He could complain about living in a room in an institution. He could complain about the food, the staff, the decor. Anything.
I'm not saying that he's never complained, or he will never complain again, or that he is some super doyen of niceness. He has his grumpy days and moments, just like we all do. But his habit is to be grateful and to look for the good in what's around him. The vast majority of his conversation is positive, friendly, encouraging and kind, and it's been that way since my kids (and for that matter, I) have known him.
The second thing we all noticed was that Poppa is always interested in other people. He's always got a question to ask: "What have you been doing lately? How's this person? How's that person? What's been an encouragement for you? What's been a trouble for you?" He asks the kids questions about their lives, and he asks me too. (Let's be honest, I'm the instant friend of anyone who asks, "How are your books going?" But Pop asked that question and more as well.)
Poppa doesn't just ask questions to appear interested, or to bring in his own topic of conversation. He doesn't use questions as a manipulation technique or a way to dominate. Poppa genuinely is interested in us. He wants to find out what's going on in our lives. He asks follow-up questions and digs deeper when he wants to know more.
People: this is a rare thing. For me, this is what makes my Pop a superhero.
Who is genuinely interested in other people? Who asks questions and then listens to the answers? Who (and it applies to both young and old) doesn't prefer to hog the conversation and only talk about themselves?
My Pop hasn't changed as he's gotten older. He has been a positive person with a genuine interest in others his whole life. He has consistently demonstrated these two qualities I've talked about here for years. Not only has it made other people's lives better, it has also paid off for him: Pop gained himself three willing, loving teenage visitors last week because his whole life --- his mindset, his actions, his words --- over the years have demonstrated his love and interest in others.
Basically, my kids know he loves them, and they love him back.
So, apart from this lovely photo of Poppa, what did I bring away from the visit?
Simply this: what I do now is what I'm practising to do in the future. All my actions, choices, thoughts and words are either building or undermining my relationships now, and as I get older.
It all adds up.
I want to be like my Pop both at my current age of nearly 45, as well as when I'm nearly 97. But that's not just going to happen suddenly. His beautiful qualities are based on a lifetime of small decisions. He's chosen to forgive, to bear no grudges, to be grateful, to confess his wrongdoing where necessary and to make amends. He has chosen to love others and to follow Jesus and it has had astounding results.