It’s 9PM: Do You Know Where Your Elders Are?

I recently read Water for Elephants by author Sara Gruen. Night is falling here, and I just have to ask.

  • It’s 9PM, do you know where your elders are?

I hope they’re not in the circus parking lot looking for their past. On the other hand, maybe it’s a better place than the other place  Jacob Jankowski, a man in his 90’s, the main character in Water for Elephants seemed to be running away from when he went walking that night. In the story, his family forgot about his weekly visit. He wandered off alone, away from the nursing home looking for familiar sights and sounds of his past in the circus.

What struck me most about the novel was not the love story which is making the movie famous, although that was surprising and beautiful, but the sensitive portrayal of human aging. We don’t understand aging very well. But while the US is in love with youth, I’m a little bit in love with age. As I child I spent a lot of time with my elders whenever I could and asked about their stories of the old times. It doesn’t take much persuasion to open that door. Rather than live among strangers, my grandmother came to live with us her last few years, which were my last few years of high school–and she gave to me in her own way, an education no one else could have provided.

When I think of all the things that come with surviving over time, they seem to far outweigh the charms of youth. I always say I won’t mind getting old, considering the alternative. The main things to love of youth are sweet innocence and beauty. With age these do not necessarily completely vanish, but we may also be blessed with knowledge, experience, sometimes wisdom–and a great catalog of memory. The treasures of family memory, what a bizarre and personal library they are just waiting to be discovered. Take some time to find them if you can.

Find your elders, ask them a question. You may find “the greatest show on earth” is actually at home.

The link to Sara’s wonderful story: Novel-Sara-Gruen/dp/1565124995

8 responses to “It’s 9PM: Do You Know Where Your Elders Are?”

  1. I’m the same way. I’ve always loved talking to elderly people and thought being older would be the better half of my life. Also, I love grey hair 🙂 I want it!

    I confess I didn’t even know what Water For Elephants was about so I’m glad I read this because I would probably enjoy it!


    • Hi Sara, In some ways it does seem to be better, now that I’ve tipped over 50. It’s certainly different. Both the book and the movie “Water for Elephants” are rich. I hope that you enjoy them.


  2. Thank you for your enlightening perspective, Jennifer. You inspired me to find the book! it sounds like a must-read. Our society is far too wrapped up in preservation of youth, right down to a single gray hair. Too much vanity out there. It’s nice to hear a positive perspective on aging.


    • Kristin thanks for sharing your views here. It does seem to me too that youth worship is vain sometimes. If I had to be proud of some things, it would probably be the things that increase with age rather than those that diminish with age–though pride is not the best of attributes anyway.


  3. Catherine I love this observation, that elders can give us clarity and perspective. When I think it is a big responsibility to have two daughters, then I remember that as in Cynthia’s family, my paternal grandmother was one of 11 and my maternal grandfather one of 12 children in their families–it causes me to take a breath and think about those mothers lives. And among the men in the family, the war stories in particular are chapters that I think should be opened and shared in some way, to help us understand what went before, what happened to our loved ones, and what we are capable of enduring or changing.

    Thanks for commenting here, you always open a new door for me in our conversations.


  4. Nice post, Jennifer. I love listening to old folks.
    My grandmother came to care for me when I was 12 and recovering from surgery. She told me all about my grandfather courting her back in the early 1900’s and about being a farm wife, and giving birth to 12 babies, three of which died. My illness was terrible. A real nightmarish experience that lasted several years. But I wouldn’t have gotten that time alone with her if I hadn’t gotten ill.
    I’ve often thought about that.


    • Cynthia it’s true for me too that, like you, when I was home sick was the time I could stay and listen to the stories. Thanks for relating this caring experience with your grandmother. Maybe we’ve made childhood altogether too busy for the family to share the tapestry of their experience with one another.

      I’ve been reading Musicophilia from neurologist Oliver Sacks who observes how in patients, when one area is cut off another blossoms. Maybe the quiet time of illness in youth, while nightmarish, allows another activity–one of story telling and creative writing–to grow and later blossom. You certainly are a wonderful writer.


  5. Jennifer, I love this post! I never understand our youth obsessed culture.

    Sadly, I had a language barrier with my grandparents, who spoke a dialect of Swiss German I only knew a few words of. How interesting the stories are of other times. I think of my father’s memories of being drafted into the army and seeing a segregated South during training. Just a wink of an eye ago really, and makes me grateful of the progress. But then I think of some seniors who told me what a great local bus system there was decades ago before every family was convinced two-family cars were a “need” and think of some steps back. Taking to elders can give great clarity and perspective.



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