— Written by Matthew Kabik • Originally published in FLL Issue #35
There was a time, well before Google decided it wanted to have the answer to everything (or before snopes.com was used to discount a friend posting something outrageous about how oranges are actually filled with bugs), when people looked to those who’d seen it all before. Point in fact, it wasn’t so long ago that children—and just give this a chance—spoke to their parents, and if they didn’t have an answer, they moved up to the knower-of-all-things: grandparents.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#ccc” class=”” size=””]“First, don’t sweat the small stuff. You waste time on all of that. Enjoy your friends and go to market twice a week—it’s good for your health.”[/pullquote]
But somewhere between the invention of the computer and the innovation of the internet, some of us forgot what it’s like to look to our elders as a source of lifelong wisdom. We instead isolated ourselves from such a wonderful, kind, and patient resource in order to—well, who knows what. Save time, maybe?
But fortunately, as with so many times before, our elders are still there. They wait patiently for us to remember what they explained long ago: there are some lessons you can only hear from other people, and some wisdom you can only know with age.
Keeping both of those in mind and armed with a notepad and pen, I travelled to Central Market for a few days in order to gain some of the knowledge that only our elders can bring us—and I was happy to find that so many of them were willing to spend a few moments with me.
The first piece of advice came from vegetable-laden, salt-and-pepper-haired Pat Coller who will be 75 in September. My running question was, simply, “What piece of advice would you give your 20- to 30-yearold self?” which she was more than happy to answer. “First, don’t sweat the small stuff. You waste time on all of that,” she said, along with, “enjoy your friends and go to market twice a week—it’s good for your health.”[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#ccc” class=”” size=””]“I didn’t lead a bad life, but I get the feeling that when you’re my age, you’ll feel like you could have done more, too.”[/pullquote]
What struck me with her advice, even more than the perceived simplicity of it, was how quickly she thought of it. It wasn’t something she needed to think about at all, as if Pat was just waiting for someone to ask her.
The next two people I spoke to, who didn’t want to give their names or ages, said that education, above all else, is the most important thing one can get in life. The woman’s fellow market-goer suggested that it’s also just as important to find a job that you love doing.
I also spoke with Vasso Papavasilion of Yasou Greek Pastries—a stand owner at Central Market and still incredibly active at 66. She was naturally busy with customers when I first approached, but gestured me to stand beside her until she completed her work and had time to answer the question. She suggested, after chiding me for asking such an important question at nine in the morning, that young people should take more risks. She added, however, that she’d advise her younger self to not bite off more than she could chew, and that surrounding yourself with positive people is more worthwhile than trying to make sad people happy.
The last person I spoke with was an 82-year-old man who sat outside of Central Market on a bench, waiting for his wife. He explained that the heat in the market, along with the foot traffic, was just a bit too much for him. He’d been going to Central market for 75 years and expressed how much the city had changed in that period of time. Not for the better, not for the worse, simply changed.
He said his only piece of advice to his younger self would be to lead a better life.
“I didn’t lead a bad life, but I get the feeling that when you’re my age, you’ll feel like you could have done more, too.”
He didn’t seem sad, but he did seem more complacent about the advice—it struck me how much weight his words carried, how much they meant to him to say. He wished me well in life, and asked (like so many elders before), that I remember what he said.