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What wisdom do older adults share with younger generations?

An alarming amount of older adults feel as though their experiences and voices don’t matter or aren’t valued by the younger generations. Interviews from numerous sources throughout an older adult community neighborhood In Barnegat New Jersey, show that young people would benefit from the wisdom and advice of those who have lived through unimaginable events.  

While interviewing some of the women I was appalled by their surprise that young people would be interested in hearing about their life. Their advice on life and hearing what they’ve persevered through was inspiring for me and for those I share the interviews with.  For example, I had the opportunity to receive a letter from Caroline Jordet, born 1940. Jordet wrote of what it was like to grow up during the 1940’s, when the US was just out of the Great depression. Jordet wrote about her childhood, the parallels of the discipline and ways of making fun compared to now. She explained how people “coped”, how  ” we used our imaginations and resources they had on hand”. She explores her experiences growing up with many disciplinary  environments such as her school and her household. “.. As young children our lives revolved around our nuclear family, school, church and neighborhood.”It seems from her experience that life was centered around necessity and discipline. She also acknowledged that not everyone was having the same experience of her that for some this was a very difficult time but she ended the interview with this “I have been blessed with the opportunity to experience many things; a close-knit family, very conscientious, well-educated parents, travel experiences including living in Japan for 18 months as a child and 1 year as a professional nurse, attending excellent college programs, having a lovely family of my own with a loving husband, and now grandchildren, and numerous friends, all of which have enriched my life.”

Another interview with Barabara Mariano, born 1942, was especially revealing. In our generation, it is almost a common apprehension when hearing certain opinions from older generations because you’re not sure you won’t have conflicting ideas of the situation. I didn’t find that to be the case whatsoever when reading these interviews over. Mariano actually shares her experiences with gender roles and how she had defied them. She elaborates “Girls had defined roles and boys were treated differently” and that she “wanted to do the things they did but was not encouraged”. She also shares her wish of one day “having a woman as president”. Mariano also emphasizes how “ahead of his time” her father was and his major influence on her life and her goals. As she explained her aspirations for the future she explained that she has been working as nurse in a jail for over 50 years, she explains how this connects to her concerns of our country and how “not all people are treated equally” and then goes on to explain how she is “sad that this country is in such turmoil and that people are not tolerant of differences”. When asked about her opinions and experiences with growing older she shares some wisdom stating that “aging is a privilege” but clarifying that she “still has things to do ”. Mariano shared lots of beautiful advice and wisdom within the interview but a common theme was to “believe in yourself” and that “when someone tells you it’s impossible to fulfill your dreams, just say ‘ ‘watch me”. 

Another interview with an older adult, Jeane Harpster, born 1947, introduced another aspect of aging into the mix. Harpster makes a point of explaining her passion and “desire to create opportunities and spaces for people to spiritually grow and learn”. Like Jordet, Harpster reminisces and expands on what it was like growing up after a major global event t. For her it was World War 2, but she explains her childhood was “ a time of innocent freedom” and that as she “watched friends go off to war, we had to access our values, and we dreamed and sang of peace”. Harpster explains how aging has changed her physically yet she is “as curious about life as she was at 20” and that for her aging “is about acceptance and perspective”. Harpster also explores her own principles that she’s carried with her throughout life making a point of sharing that she was “taught early that love should be the actions for our motives”.

I had the privilege and opportunity to hear from so many women when researching for this article. Women who are defined by so many things other than their age, women who believe in kindness and equality and have dreams for the future. These women were not malicious towards younger generations; they actually seemed quite hopeful for our futures, for the futures of their children and grandchildren. I am truly inspired by the passion they have for their lives, for the things that they still would like to do and for their strength through hardships. These women are continuing to dream, they are living examples that there is an entire world beyond high school and that despite the struggles we are all facing in this moment, that through it all there will still be hope and perseverance.

To conclude I will leave you with the wise words of 2 women. Edna Sucklw, born 1948 ended her interview with a word of advice about reaching for your goals she said “just because the road is rocky can’t mean you can’t accomplish your dreams’ ‘. And Robbie Klauder, born 1933, shared something in response to a question about what she’s carried with her throughout her years, her answer was “to be as honest as possible, to keep in contact with old friends, to do what needs to be done”. 


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