Monday, February 24, 2014

The Wisdom of Elders

"What an elder sees sitting, the young can't see standing."  - Gustave Flaubert

April 24, 2014 - Last night, William Penn House hosted a dinner honoring Janie Boyd, a remarkable woman of 84.  I have written about Janie in the past for her inspiring and seemingly tireless work to make sure that people in her community do not go to bed hungry, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, young or old.  She gets out there on the farms to pick greens, organizes food deliveries, and challenges all who cross her path that it is not only criminal but against God's will that we let greed, power and complacency stand in the way of getting readily available and healthy food to the homes of the working poor.  The event last night was great, and the preparation for it had me learning even more about all who have been not just touched, but motivated and inspired - as well as lovingly burned - by her love and faith that we can do better.
This morning, I went to the office to wrap up some loose ends as I prepare to take the rest of the week off. I'm having surgery on my left lung, and the process to get to this point has been a bit of a drag.  But, every step of the way the past few months, Janie has reassured me that all will be fine - that we are in God's hands.  She has been sharp with me about taking care of myself physically as well as emotionally.  At about 10AM, Janie called me to simply state that if I need anything, to let her and the folks at her church know.  More importantly, Janie wanted to let me know that I am loved.
So all day I've been reflecting on how lucky I have been.  The reason?  I have always had elders in my life, and I have mostly been open to hearing their wisdom.  From the late night conversations with my grandmas, all the way to the present, they have been there imparting their wisdom and nurturing my values.  I first heard that God did not put us on this earth to fight not from a Quaker lesson, but from my Presbyterian grandmother as she stopped the car and got out to pull two fighting kids apart that she did not know. I learned that it's important to drop things once in a while and go for a walk or spend time with nature from my grandpa. I learned that late night conversations matter from the many I had with my other grandmother and, in more recent years, from my great aunt, as well as from my first service experience - snow shoveling for a man in his 90's.  The shoveling took 5 minutes; the hot cocoa and cookies and stories took a few hours.
Then, as I journeyed through life with HIV front and center, there was Lois Johnson, always showing that love matters more than anything. Lois had lost a son to AIDS in 1995, and spent much of the rest of her 18 years on this earth doing what she could to make the world of more loving place so people did not have to suffer life in shame or isolation, or from unnecessary disease.  Not only was love the lesson, but that life is not so much about problems but opportunities.  And now there is Janie, and the lessons continue as she imparts her wisdom not just with me but with the youth groups that come to William Penn House.
The lessons of each of these people are a part of who I am now.  They guide so much of my work and life. Their lessons are not separate, but sequential, each one building on and integrating with the previous. My hope is that all people be open to this wisdom that is readily available in people like Janie, Lois and countless others. Wisdom comes from life experiences, and is often found in the humblest of places.  It is out there, to be shared. It is a source of hope in the face of adversity. May we all be so fortunate to find that wisdom in our lives. More importantly, if we truly want to bring justice to the world, I believe we need that loving wisdom to guide us.
-Brad Ogilvie


Susanna Davison said...

Through valuing the lessons of elders, you're well along in becoming one!

The Watcher said...

Does Janie only support the working poor?

Brad Ogilvie/The William Penn House/The Mosaic Initiative said...

No, Janie supports any and all she can. Because of the role economics plays in nutrition, much of her efforts at getting farm foods to people in the cities does go to poor folks who often cannot afford nor easily get to the farmers' markets or Whole Foods.