I answered the call to write a piece for Starts at 60 and it got me thinking. Within this group we have life experience, we could and should be the wise elders of the community, if we have learned our lessons well. So I began a retrospective of my life. What had been the pivotal moments, the life changing, earth shattering revelations?
Like most of us there have been many. Births and deaths, career high points, career low point, love and loss. I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame on stage and TV, I’ve had my months of retreat, hiding away where no one can find me. I’ve lived the high life as a high achiever and I’ve been so poor I couldn’t afford to eat. All of which left their mark, taught me about life and taught me about myself. As I continued to think about which of these major events I would write about, which had been the most important, therefore was most worthy of discussion, I found a strange thing happening. Bubbles of thought were rising to the surface. Memories of much smaller, less significant incidents began to occupy my thoughts. As I went about my daily tasks I’d find myself recalling a particular situation, and a smile would spread across my face, or tears would fill my eyes and my throat tighten with emotion. One by one these lesser events began to build. I saw a pattern begin to emerge as there was a theme to these memories that stirred such strong emotions in me.
If you’ll indulge me, then I’ll share one with you. Decades ago I was a manager of a branch office of a large company. A high profile Sydney businessman rang my office looking to do business. The deal was a big one. The man wanted to speak to the manager. I told him he was speaking to her. No he said, I want to speak to the male manager. I told him there is no male manager here, this branch has one manager and I am it. His response was curt. “If you want my business, get the male manager to my office tomorrow at 9am”. My personal reaction was to tell him to take his misogyny elsewhere but, business is business so I swallowed my humiliation and rang my immediate boss. Now this man was, and still is, a giant in the industry, feared by most for his ability to reduce a grown man to shreds in seconds yet admired by all for his super sharp brain. Through clenched teeth I related the story. He asked me what I wanted to do. It was agreed he come to take the meeting. The next day, as we were about to walk into the client’s office, Greg (let’s call him Greg because, after all, that’s his name) asked me for my notepad and pen. As the client talked, Greg took notes. Then the man asked a question. Greg’s response took me by surprise. He wasn’t sure he said, Robyn would know, what do you think Robyn? And this was how the rest of the meeting went. Greg deferred to me on each and every question. I knew full well he knew the answers, but he too knew full well that so did I, and he provided a space for me to show that. He became the secretary, taking the notes, and without making any grand statement, he clearly demonstrated this to the client. I filled the brief and took the client’s money. I hope the client took on board the lesson offered to him.
And here was the pattern to my most emotive memories. The things that changed my life were when people demonstrated that they were there for me, they had my back. The stranger on the bus who stepped in to support me in an awkward situation, the family member who offered emotional or physical support in tough times, the kindness of a passer by when I was lost overseas, the support from fellow commenters on the internet when less than thoughtful others launch a personal attack. We aren’t all in the position to make grand gestures but we are all in the position to be supportive, to show kindness, to stand up for what we believe is right, and to bring out the best in others.
I’d love to hear from others what they feel they have learned from life and what wisdom they’ve gained.