By Laura Walusimbi
Social networks. We all have them. A dictionary I consulted defines a social network as a network of friends, acquaintances and co-workers who are connected by interpersonal relationships. Members of a social network reinforce each other’s self-esteem, find mutually enjoyable pursuits and receive support from each other. You might know it by a different name such as a group, fellowship or community but the principle is the same – members who have each other’s back. Our social networks feed a particular need in our lives. The most common networks feed our spirituality, parenting, and personal growth needs.
My most favourite social network is comprised of mostly women my mother’s age if she were still alive. They are the true embodiment of a popular description of retirees – they are retired but not tired. Among these amazing retirees are a judge, a diplomat, several businesswomen, lawyers, doctors, secretaries, a journalist and nurses. The list is endless. The thing that fascinates me about all these women is that although they are in the twilight of their lives, they are still very vibrant. They are positive and happy. They refuse to let the passage of time slow them down. Many of the ladies cannot drive themselves around anymore. That has not stopped them though. They have worked out a strategy to ensure there is always someone to get them from one place to another because they refuse to be housebound and immobile.
They remain active in our community and are happy to mentor the younger generation. They have, over the past four years, helped to put things into perspective for me. These remarkable women, who are more like mothers and big sisters to me, have taught me a great deal. When I get to their age I want to be just like them. Here are a few of the key lessons I have learned from them:
You are never too old to learn something new. These women have challenged me to make better use of my down time. It is amazing to see women above 60 taking on new challenges as they learn how to crochet, paint, do patchwork and garden. Most have failing eyesight and less than nimble fingers but that does not stop them from picking up a needle, a paintbrush or a hoe to do something with their hands. They are eager to learn and do not give up until they accomplish some measure of success.
Help the poor
A couple of the ladies have led good lives. Their children, for those who have them, are all grown up now with families of their own. They have achieved most of what they set out to achieve years ago. With hindsight they now realise that the things that mattered then are inconsequential now. They spent a lot of time on themselves or their loved ones. That does not mean that they were living selfishly but rather they were consumed by what they thought were the priorities of their lives then. Now they realise there is a lot more they can do with their lives and what they have learned along the way. They now do more charity work. They spend time and money crafting African products that they can sell to raise funds for a project they run. The proceeds from the sale of their products have helped make a difference in so many lives around the country.
Knowledge sharing doesn’t cost you anything. It is not like you lose a part of you when you share. Most people my age and younger are reluctant to share information because we are afraid the recipient will do better than us and make us look bad. These ladies have shown me that sharing information takes nothing away from you. Rather it helps you get better at what you do, but more importantly you get the satisfaction of knowing that you helped someone.
Hard work is not age-defined
Just because you are over 60 does not mean you should work any less than you did when you were much younger. If your body does not cooperate with your mind’s willingness to work you must find a way around that and do what needs to be done. One of the ladies is partially hearing-impaired but she is the light of the group. She is great with her hands and spends countless hours making crafts for family and friends as well as for sale. You will regularly find most of the other ladies pottering in their gardens (or someone else’s), stitching an exquisite quilt or, once in a while, baking up a storm.
Groom the younger generation
To ensure there is continuity after they leave this world, the ladies are imparting their skills to younger women. On our part, we are eager to glean as much information and skills from these wise old ladies as we possibly can. They are patient in their tutelage and delighted with our quick learning. They teach us things they learnt from their grandmothers and mothers. This includes archetypal skills such as mending clothes, cross-stitch, gardening, compost production and other skills that the modern day mother tends to shelve in pursuit of her oft-elusive perfect dream.
Make time to have fun with your buddies. After all you don’t know how much time you have left with them. And we all know that no play makes Jill a dull girl. So make it a habit to visit a friend, or go out for a cup of coffee. Be silly. Laugh a lot. Take it easy on the alcohol and cigarettes though. You want to ensure you do everything to live a long and productive life.