Every Monday I take a bus to Vancouver East Side to facilitate a conversational session for seniors, who are learning English. It is a community-based free program and that is why the its patrons are usually those, who have seen harder times in life. In my class there is a man, who had to work for logging companies from the tender teenage years and there is a woman, who carried the responsibility of maintaining a household in the face of economic hardships, then there is a woman, who lives in a group home, and there is another, who takes care of her elderly parents. All of them come together once a week to speak English, but also to find understanding and support that they lack in their everyday life.
For ten weeks that I teach, I make a scrapbook with poems, anecdotes and inspirational quotes that my students bring to class. In the end of the course, I print a small booklet, a token to be taken home by every member of our class, something to remind them of this time spent together. They are courageous and strong people, my students, and stories that they tell in class are narratives of wisdom that only life long lived can give. While I am not at liberty to share their stories, I can share lessons that I learn from them.
When I was younger, I thought that life stopped at 30, that people over 50 should be satisfied with what they have, but now I see that even at 70 one’s mind is still searching, I see curiosity and excitement of discovery shared by seniors and joy they bring to the class. I learned gratitude and humbleness from those who gave their young years to others be it family or industry. Arrogance and selfishness weight us down, one of my students told me, when I asked him if he feels any bitterness because he had to work so that his younger siblings could go to college. I came to find beauty in simplest of nature’s creations and fulfilment in simplest of human activities, when we talked about urban gardening. I felt free to express my feelings and emotions in a group of people who know how it feel to lose a friend, to say goodbye to your loved ones, to leave home.
There is something special in working with seniors. Every ten weeks I am left with a reminder of the time spent with these beautiful people, of the importance of relationships that we build and maintain throughout our lives and of lessons that we can learn when we absolutely do not expect to.