As a 13 year old boy the last thing I wanted to do was spend time at my 90 year old neighbor’s house, but my mother insisted. Each week her garbage needed taken to the outside bin and then to the curb. I also took plates of Sunday dinner, and I invariably ended up in her house hearing about the “good ole days” for what seemed like hours on end.
It wasn’t just the never-ending, one sided conversations that troubled me, she made me uncomfortable too. I would knock on the side door of her house, bracing myself for the unpleasant musty smell I would encounter. I was secretly hoping that she would be too busy to sit down at her kitchen table and talk. I wanted to deliver the food, get busy, get the trash, and get out of there. But somehow she always seemed to have the time, and I didn’t have a good excuse not to. We would end up sitting at her kitchen table talking.
Because she was nearly blind and deaf, we had to sit close enough for her to hear, making me even more uncomfortable. She looked like others 90 year olds look. She was very thin. Her cheek bones protruded out. Her eyes were sunken in and her skin was so thin it was almost transparent. Even more disturbing was that she had almost no teeth left. Her hair was pulled into a wispy gray bun. One time it was out and reached to her waist. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my siblings about that.
While it’s easy to recall the distasteful emotions I felt as a teenager around these visits, there was also a deep meaningful side to this experience that changed me and made me a better person. There was a tug of war going on inside me. The typical teenage, selfish side wanted to keep my distance and leave as soon as possible. The other side whispered for me to see her needs, be kind, give of myself, and show her that I cared. I knew Mrs. Tattersall was lonely. Mom had told me so many times. She had few, if any, visitors during the week and her husband had been dead for over 30 years. Now in thinking about it, I don’t remember her telling a story that took place after his death. I recall being genuinely happy when she would laugh out loud at a humorous memory or at something I had said. I would forget momentarily that I didn’t have any friends at the large Junior High.
Instead of just relief, as I passed through the back door, I also felt a little lighter in my step, and experienced the joy that comes from giving of oneself. It wasn’t all bad. In fact, all of the service that I was encouraged to render by my parents and church leaders may be some of the most important developmental occasions of my growing up. Resisted and unappreciated at the time, there were immediate and lifelong benefits brought about in me. What seems like a contradiction is not. As we forget ourselves, we actually find our BEST selves.
This month’s Notes From Home was inspired by a presentation given by members of Sun Hawk Adolescent Recovery Center’s team. We thank them for helping us focus on one of the things that matter most and we hope you will find the information here both inspiring and practical as you work with your teens.
To Family Happiness!
Tim Thayne, Ph.D.