I have a friend whom I will call Stella, because I haven’t asked her permission to tell her story. Stella will soon be 89 years old. Recently, Stella informed me that she had just taken delivery of a new car, though she couldn’t show it to me that day because a family member had taken it to Alberta.
Stella and I rub shoulders frequently when we volunteer at the local food bank. She lifts, carries, heaves, encourages, and laughs. When children appear, Stella is on the scene with treats. When clients show up whom she knew from decades past, I see her dancing with them joyfully as they recognize each other.
I need people like Stella in my life, to teach me how to live with enthusiasm and hope.
I quizzed Stella about the new car. “There’s no gear shift, just a thing you turn! And there’s a button to start it! I couldn’t get the cruise to work, but I don’t think I was doing it right! I asked a friend to help me figure out all the switches, and suddenly the steering wheel was warm!” She was awed by all the new things to learn, all the changes that come with a new vehicle.
Awed, yes, but certainly not overwhelmed. These were challenges that she would confront and master, just like the other challenges that come from being on the doorstep of your tenth decade.
Stella has lived an important and a full life. She is also a fine story teller, and as I listen to her, recounting the chapters that are good, the chapters that are so very hard, the tears come easily and naturally. So does the laughter, the sense of delight, the sense of wonder at the many things yet to learn, at the wonder of the opportunities set before her.
Until this past year, Stella lived alone in her own house, it’s been some years since her partner died, and she finally decided that it was too much. Now she is in a suite in a condominium, and chuckles a little sheepishly at the ruckus caused when she left a pot heating on her stove while she went out. “I asked the caretaker if I would be evicted!”
When she touches on her stories of loss, of grieving, Stella observes that, while you are in the middle of those hard stories, there is a sense of, ‘How will I ever survive this?’ And yet, from the perspective of great age, her reflection is in the line of, ‘I guess this too shall pass.’
The food bank is only one avenue where Stella offers her energy and encouragement. She has a gift, a passion, for encouraging those on the margins. In her paid working life, Stella was ahead of her time in offering that gift of affirmation and delight to those folks at the edge.
There are places in the Bible, Jeremiah and Isaiah come to mind, where God’s chosen people, even though they find themselves in difficult straits, where those chosen people are encouraged to plant vineyards, to build houses, to live hopeful lives, even when the future seems bleak. The challenge I sense is one of living hopefully into a new reality.
That’s the lesson that Stella and the new car represent to me. Stella has important places to go, important things to do, and this new car represents her determination that nothing will stand in her way of getting to those events, those points of light in her life, those places where she can shine, those places where that light also reflects back onto her. Stella makes a difference.
First Nations spirituality and culture reminds us of the importance of holding up our elders, recognizing the important learnings gleaned through many decades, many stories, of recognizing the wisdom that is offered out of those rich lives, and somehow, honouring those lives and those folks as having a spiritual blessing to offer. I have been blessed to have a number of elders in my life, at whose feet I choose to sit in my determination to live well, to live as God challenges me to live.
Thank you, God. Thank you, Stella.