Learning along the way: 74-year-old imparts wisdom


Photo by Maya Bell

Maddie Murphy

When we stopped at the first gas station, about two hours into our 20-hour road trip, and she told me she wasn’t wearing any underwear, I knew we would become very close over the 18 hours to come. I learned a lot that day, some things I could live without hearing, and some things that I will never forget.
As fans of all things Mizzou sports, we were making the 10-hour drive to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to watch our friends and family members play basketball. Spending almost a full day in the car with a 74-year-old woman could be a 16-year-old high school student’s worst nightmare. For me, though, this was the best way to end 2017 and begin the new year for many reasons. Those 20 hours could’ve felt like forever, but surprisingly, they blew by.
For the entirety of that trip, we didn’t turn the radio on once, nor did we take a nap. We spent hours discussing anything we had wondered about in life and gave each other advice based on our experiences. She valued the wisdom that I have from my 16 years, which is something I have very rarely felt before from someone older than myself. During the ride, I acquired knowledge I never expected to. I learned the importance of real conversation.
Through the jokes and arguably politically incorrect statements that brought on a roar of laughter from the group including those between the ages of 12 and 74, I learned that you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously and that not everyone has to get “old and boring.” She is probably one of the coolest, funniest and most down-to-earth people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. In the boring moments, she never fails to say one of her famous one-liners, whether she means to. But when you need a shoulder to cry on, she is there to console and comfort you. She taught me that there is a time to laugh and a time to be serious, the first significantly outweighing the second. “Laughter is the best medicine,” she constantly preaches.
Arguably the most important lesson I learned from her is to always find the extraordinary beauty in the ordinary day-to-day. What I used to consider a boring day, a day on my couch, studying and listening to music, is a day that some people dream of. Teenagers battling illness rarely see anything other than the bland white walls of hospitals and doctors’ offices, if I am being ‘forced’ to spend one day enjoying the comfort of my own home, is that really the worst thing that could happen? I’ve learned that a day that isn’t full of constant go-go-go excitement is a blessed day; there are so many people that would kill for a day without work, responsibilities or financial stress.
Without knowing that she was teaching me anything at all, she showed me something that contradicts today’s society in the very best way. She taught me that it’s okay to go “off the grid.” She never has her phone, and she is absolutely okay with it. I understand she wasn’t born in an age defined by digital connection, and yet that hasn’t stopped her from having a Facebook and using a family group chat to stay up to date. She doesn’t feel like she needs to know what everyone is doing 24/7 and doesn’t take pictures of everything she sees; she is content.
From now on, I plan on accepting the fact that I don’t need constant interaction with social media. I want to be better at keeping a balance between staying relevant and being able to disconnect and communicate with people without the distraction of a cell phone.
There are so many things you can learn from someone older and wiser than you. You don’t need to ask for advice, just slow down and enjoy the stillness. You’ll be surprised how beautiful it is.