“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” — Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
Moving from the home you’ve known, whether for one year or 60, to a new place must be something akin to the experience of the character in Heinlein’s “Stranger,” a human raised on Mars and returned to Earth to encounter a way of living different than what he had always known.
You might not change planets, but jobs change and moves are made, retirement arrives and people might move closer to their kids, or maybe folks just tire of the same scene and set out for an adventure.
Come to think of it, I guess almost every single one of us in the United States is here because of a stranger in strange land, seeing how our country began as a bunch of immigrants. Being a stranger in a strange land can be scary and can leave you wondering if you’ll ever be happy. Then you discover the truth … that the happiness of other people matters in an unexpected way.
Spending a few days away from my own home recently, I stayed with an aunt at her retirement home. I was the stranger in a strange land, but my aunt and the people at the dinner table helped me to feel right at home.
That’s the first lesson I learned: Be hospitable when you have visitors.
With kindness and humor I was welcomed, and in watching the people at our dinner table each evening I learned the second lesson: Care about those who are near you and dear to you.
Two of the ladies waited for each other to arrive to the table each evening before placing the order for their meal. It worked out nicely that the one who couldn’t hear too well could see well and could read the menu, and the one who couldn’t see well had great hearing to learn what was available for the meal.
They are a funny pair of friends who obviously love each other very much and really enjoy having a lot of fun. Two sisters also shared this large dinner table with us. They had lots of stories about life from childhood through adulthood, and listening to them I learned my third lesson: Love each other even if you don’t agree (on the other’s memory of situations).
The sisters would tell about a time they remembered, and in their recounting they reminded me of my own mother and aunt who share memories of being in the same place at the same time, but each has a different memory of the same story.
The sisters showed me the importance of not taking things so seriously when I am in disagreement with someone I love. We might all remember situations a little differently and it can be that none of us is wrong. As one of the ladies sat near her husband, she mentioned a health issue that he had, and I was very quiet as I contemplated what to do with such an honest piece of information. She taught me the fourth lesson:Allow others to know what’s really going on.
In an effort to appear perfect and without problems or worries, we tend to share little about our struggles with those around us. Opening up invites others to share if they’ve had a similar situation, allows them to know that our circumstances have changed, and it really cuts down on the need for gossip.
Her having shared at the table gave me the opening to ask her privately the next day what was happening. She seemed grateful to be able to speak so frankly, and I was happy that I could listen and learn.
The thing that was most noticeable about the people at our table was that despite whatever problems they might have, they were genuinely happy and pleasant. With my aunt being the baby of the table at only 75, this was a group of people who had lived full lives and have decided to find the best in each day now that they are in their golden years. This isn’t a nursing home, it’s a retirement home. And that is definitely the fifth lesson: Life doesn’t end when you retire or when you move away from home.
My own mother also lives in a retirement home and was the baby of the group when she moved there at 71. She and the aunt I’ve just visited have taught me that changing the places they each called home for so many years didn’t mean that they gave up the best days.
Instead, I’ve seen both of them get involved with the people where they live, contributing in their own ways to the places they call home and benefiting from the friendships they’ve formed. And there’s lesson number six: People will eventually die.
I remember the first time one of the men or women living where my mother had moved died. It was sad and a bit depressing to realize that this kind of thing would be happening with some frequency, much more magnified than when she lived by herself.
I don’t think it makes losing a friend any easier, but it’s no good living with a false sense that people will live forever. Yes, we’ll all eventually die, so make an effort to find some good in the people around you and don’t let the last thing folks remember about you be that you were unhappy and crabby.
Will you take the lessons into your life this week? If you are 9, 90, or somewhere in between, each lesson applies to your life.
•Be hospitable when you have visitors.
•Care about those who are near you and dear to you
•Love each other even if you don’t agree (on the other’s memory of situations).
••Allow others to know what’s really going on.
•Life doesn’t end when you retire or when you move away from home.
•People will eventually die.
I’ll share a few bonus lessons: a hot plate really does keep the food warmer longer (every restaurant and dining room should practice this), a basket of snacks set out to share with friends will be emptied and appreciated, a knife makes a great mirror for checking your teeth or lipstick while sitting at the table, and you can find new love when you lost it forty years earlier.
If it’s true that love is when the happiness of someone else matters to you, then the people I spent the week with are showing love every day, and you and I can too.