Back in the day (or, really back in 2009) I worked at a retirement and assisted living facility. I worked as a server and eventually worked in the front office as an assistant to the senior writer. And though the office job was more “legitimate,” it didn’t have the same appeal to me as working in the dining room did. I usually hated serving, especially after years of working at a silly chain restaurant in the ghetto of Worcester, as well as serving at a country club in high school and a high-end, uptight restaurant on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester. I made bank at that last job (not so much at the chain restaurant in the ghetto), but it didn’t matter, because the act of serving was something I did not enjoy. Serving at the retirement home was different though.
The residents kept things interesting. Sure, they got the same breakfast every single day (and to this day, I can still tell you what certain residents ate), but they were also so incredibly interesting. They had fascinating (and often historically rich) stories to tell, seemed interested in the details of my life, and they offered incredible advice and wisdom. More than anything though, it was their incredibly positive attitudes. One woman, Ellen, was always–and I mean always–smiling. Another man, Herb, told me often, “If you can’t get a laugh a day, what’s the point of getting out of bed?” Another one was often so grumpy and cranky if he couldn’t eat the second the dining room opened, but he became delighted when he was given a full bowl of ice cream, especially when everyone else got a mere cup of it.
Then there was Bob and Millie. They were both in their 90s, living at the retirement home, with their children, grand children, and great-grand children visiting them. And one night, Millie passed away while the two were watching television. But the next morning, when none of us expected to see him, sure enough, at 9:30, Bob walked in (naturally, with his walker), and sat down at the table in the corner he always sat at. Knowing what he wanted for breakfast, his order was put in, and he was promptly greeted with coffee. I then walked over to him, expressed my condolences, and gave him a big hug. And though he was full of deep sadness over the passing of his wife of more than sixty years, he was strong, and he mustered up the strength to talk to me.
I share these brief stories and memories of these residents because there was something so different about the way they lived that I simply hadn’t seen before. I’ve been having a hard time with things lately. I’ve written about that before. I’m going through a lot of changes. And sometimes, I don’t want to get out of bed. I just want to stay there all day. But I go on, and go through the motions, and it’s honestly not all that worthwhile. When I worked at this assisted living community, the spark that these people had in them, and their zest and passion for life, was something truly inspiring. Seeing people who had lived through The Depression, several wars, 9/11, life before the internet (terrible #firstworldproblems) was inspiring. But more than anything, their willingness to make new friends and learn new things, as well as their thirst for life despite everything they’d been through, put things in perspective.
They didn’t have everything. They simply made the most of what they had. And their years of experience gave them this perspective, which is something I can only wish I’ll be lucky enough to have one day.
So when things get tough, remember: All it comes down to is the way you look at yourself and the world around you. It’s all about perspective.