As I walked through the front door I could smell a cooked meal- just like my grandma’s cooked food when she used to be alive. The furniture is worn and its color has faded in the sun. I could see a few plants growing in old-fashioned pots. You can hear the sound of birds in the unkempt garden and people scattering around in the kitchen. It felt as if I went back in time for a while, only to realize I’m still living in the modern age when my cell phone rang. Young people came rushing in, preparing their gifts with laughter and energy. The silence was broken.
I walked from one old and confused face to the next, giving them hugs and cards with unique and special notes inside. Some of them staring at the card and asking “what is this for?” or “should I give you money now?” not realizing that charity means kindliness, consideration, humanity, and sympathy. As soon as I told them it’s just a gift, some of them would smile and feel special, while others disappear with the card swiftly.
I walked into a room where I found an old lady sitting in her chair with her feet on top of a stack of pillows. She was busy eating, concentrating on chewing well and swallowing carefully. She struggled to keep the serving of food on her lap. She didn’t notice me at first, but as soon as I sat down on her bed next to her, she looked up and smiled. “O, hallo!” She didn’t seem frightened or puzzled, just surprised.
The room was packed with a lot of different things- furniture, plants, a chair with different kinds of pillows, framed pictures, an old television, books and a box with fresh fruit, socks, wool, and a pair of scissors. The lamp next to the bed was switched on, even though it was right next to the window where you could experience the fine day outside. She moved the plate to one side on the tray and waited for me to say something. I gave her the card without saying anything at first. She read the message in the card and said “You are so good at writing! This is beautiful. Thank you.” Then she started to tell me stories about her life and her childhood, surprisingly content and proud.
She is hard of hearing, so she misinterpreted most of the questions I asked. Some of them she understood and went to the ends of the earth to start telling me every specific story from the very beginning. Time wasn’t an aspect of her thinking. She would tell me about how she enjoyed sport and showed me the scars on her legs. I also noticed the arthritis in her knees and ankles. She told me stories starting with “Just the other day when I still went to school” or “When my mother used to live”. She told me about the family she has lost and that her brother in Cape Town is the only family she’s got left.
She spoke about love and joy and peace and security and caring for her own mother. Listening to her stories I realized that she didn’t even once mention anything about money or dept or being rich or the few things she has got left with her in her room. These things didn’t matter. It’s not these things that made her life worth wile- it’s the fact that she loved her job, cared for others, read many books and mastered new skills such as learning to write with her right hand instead of the left.
Looking at this lady, I realized that she is happy with her life. With what she has done and achieved and with how she looks. She felt beautiful and laughed at her own jokes about being ninety-one years old. Her skin looked delicate and wrinkled. Her lips were almost gone and her eyes were filled with water which she has gotten used to. Her movements were slow and her hair was thin. Suddenly I felt so aware of my own imperfections which were, in fact, even more beautiful in comparison with this old lady’s beauty.
Life is so short. I want to do what I love to do! I want to live out my passion without being worried about money or status or risking everything I’ve got. I want to have kids and raise them to the best of my ability. I want to be a good wife, mother, sister, daughter, employer and friend. Because just like most other people I might be the one in that same room one day, being able to tell the same kind of stories and also be content and proud of what I’ve achieved- even if that room is empty. I also want to be able to say “When I retired and moved here, it felt as if I've lost something…”
by Letitia Claassen on Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 3:32pm