A week ago, my dear friend Kate gave me the greatest gift. She had asked me to teach a theatre class at The East Hampton Senior Citizens Center. My teaching experience is quite extensive, and yet, it had never included senior citizens.
But when Kate asks you to do something, you say yes.
It's usually good for the heart.
It always feeds the artistic soul.
So, I said yes.
I walked into the center, armed with my lesson. I had recently developed a workshop entitled, "Words to My Younger Self", in which the students of the class would pick a piece of advice that they wished they had known when they were younger. They would write out this life lesson, and then perform their monologues for the class.
The director of the Center loved the idea.
I loved the idea.
All was well.
I walked into the classroom, and began to organize my papers, and put out pens. I counted chairs, making sure we had enough. I began to put the chairs in the circle.
And then my students began to walk in.
Bud was 85 years old.
Jean was in her early 70s.
Brianne was in her late sixties, and had suffered head trauma.
Trudy was in her mid 70s.
And then there was Viviene.
…Viviene was 97.
It became crystal clear that writing, well, that wasn't in the cards.
I had a mild panic attack for a second. (Nobody could tell, of course.)
What was I going to teach these people?
Theatre games, the director said. You know, like, improv!
Now, while I appreciate the help, IMPROV was not going to work with this crowd. It's hard enough to do that with a group of students who are in performance training.
Luckily, improv was always my favorite. And so…I switched gears real quick.
I'm fortunate to have two of my grandparents still with me. My grandfather is 91, and my grandmother, my Nonna, she's 90.
And it was the words of Nonna that echoed through my brain at that moment...
"Megan, us old people. We have no future. We know that. So what makes us happiest is talking about the past."
And so…we spoke of the past. The pulse of theatre is based in storytelling, and the collective wisdom and experience between all of them was huge. So, with me gently facilitating the questions, each of them told their story, and then they each gave me a piece of advice.
Each and every one of them lit up as they recounted the stories of the good ol' days. The reminsced about old neighborhoods, old celebrties, and what life was like, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.
I wish I could've bottled up the magic that happened.
For some reason, Viviene was my favorite. Later on I was told that she has terrible short term memory, and often forgets where she is, but, in that hour with me, she had no trouble sharing about her life, and was not shy about giving me a piece of advice.
With a difference of sixty-seven years between us, she told me:
"Don't break the law. Always stay on the right side of a question - when's someone's asking you something, you have to make a decision of how to respond. Make the right one. Be true to yourself. Be kind. Remember that it's never too late to find love. I was a painter, an author, and a teacher, but I was not lucky in the love department. But I never closed myself off to it. Don't ever close yourself off to it."
What a woman, eh?
And as we are entrenched in this Christmas season, and forge our way into 2016, I hope we remember Viviene's words. For it's not the things in life that count - but the people you meet, the stories you listen to, and the new memories that you make.
Thank you, Kate, for one of the best Christmas gifts I have recieved.