During the years I’ve visited frail elderly folks, I’ve observed that many of these good people don’t feel that they have a purpose in life. Not all of them, but just enough to make me wonder what it might take for people in their later years to strengthen or regain their zest of living—something that comes along with having a lively, tangible purpose.
Today I want to try out this idea with you: If we can find just one person in whom to invest our lives, it seems to me that we could regain or strengthen our sense of a worthwhile life. Maybe even have some fun with it?
It seems likely that most of us could name at least one person who is really special—something between us really clicks. That person might be a family member, colleague, friend, neighbor, customer, caregiver or care-receiver. Someone our age, younger or older. Enjoyable to have alongside, whether close at hand or far away.
The purpose-question seems simple enough: How could our presence light up that other person’s life? Give them joy, offer them wisdom or appreciation? How could we give them purpose by receiving their generosity of spirit?
It might be awkward at first—like any relationship that’s just starting—but it seems to me that in almost any circumstance we could re-energize our lives by doing the same for someone else.
I know some people like that: The legally blind man who set up a small workshop in his assisted living apartment and made wooden gifts for people he selected as recipients. His stalwart friend who made sure that this artisan was accompanied to and from all meals. The wonderful woman suffering from Alzheimer’s dementia—unable to form sentences or otherwise communicate—who found satisfaction in playing her own piano compositions for invited visitors. The very old fellow who created wonderfully symmetrical drawings that he gave away. Each of these elderly folks somehow found within themselves the generosity to pour themselves into those around them. From my experiences with each of these older adults, I can say assuredly that they were living with a strong sense of purpose devoted to the well-being of others—one person at a time.
I don’t know exactly what motivated these purposeful folks to live this way, but I am certain that there was always something deeply loving in their character. They didn’t complain about their lot in life, nor did they spend their days in listless inactivity in front of a television. I never heard any of these now-departed saints worry about the meaning of their lives.
A personal question: What do you consider to be the reason(s) you continue to value your life now in your older years? I hope that you have not given in to self-pity—a loss of significance or usefulness—and that you can find at least one other person whose life you can bless with your presence.
So look around you, name those persons, recognize your useful gifts and start giving to others what God has first given you.
It will be a lively, tangible way to fill your years!