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Joy and kindness

March 1, 2024

Courtesy of Peter Armstrong, member of People Plus community center

We’re back! It’s the advice column with a twist. In case you’re new here, this is how it works: Bowdoin students submit anonymous questions via a QR code, and older community members from People Plus—a community recreation center for older adults in Brunswick—reply with their advice.

This week, I interviewed People Plus members during an art class. I first met two Beths. Both are retired nurses. The art class calls them Little and Big Beth. Then I met Susan and Lorraine. They have known each other for years and sit together every class. Finally, I talked to Richard, who has been married to his high school sweetheart for sixty-five years. He said the secret to a healthy marriage is “looking out for each other. [Marriage is] a two-way street.” In the spirit of people supporting people, please enjoy this week’s Q and A exchange!

What do you do in your life that brings you joy?

Big Beth: I come to art class. I like to suck up to the teacher.

Little Beth: My family. Just being with and knowing people. That’s why I like coming to art class. We all get along well here.

Susan: I have a terrible voice, but I sing to myself. Also, I like people. I’m intuitive, so I read into people’s expressions and listen more than talk. In that role, I find some nice surprises. Sometimes you get a first impression but then they surprise you.

Lorraine: Eat! Food is the best medicine because it nourishes your soul—only delicious food though. Thai food. Italian…

Susan: Seafood. She likes seafood.

Lorraine: Yeah. I see-food, and I eat it.

Richard: Being with my family. I now have a great-granddaughter. I made her a puzzle and thought it would take her a year. She got it immediately. She said to her mother the other day, “You know, I’m a genius.” She’s the only three-year-old I know that could go to the principal’s office. She can hold her own.

Recently, I’ve noticed my older relatives getting a little pricklier and losing some of the kindness I’ve associated them with from my childhood. How do you balance maintaining that love for them in the present while also holding on to that idea of them from the past?

Lorraine: Kindness—It looks like a group of sperm whales hanging out together. Look up sperm whales, and you’ll find out.

Susan: Eat a lot of dessert. I currently have a cousin that’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, and it’s hard.

Richard: I guess as you get older maybe you get grouchier. You have a few more aches and pains. It’s just a part of getting older. Maybe you gotta look back at how they were before. Ask, why are they like that now? Most of the time there’s a reason—an ache or just little things that grow on them, and they don’t realize it. Most people don’t want to get old. It’s harder for some than others.

I’m graduating in May and got a job offer across the country that starts in June. I’m worried I won’t have enough time to decompress after college. Should I take the job?

Big Beth: You can make a choice. Nowadays, jobs are all over the place. If you wait, you can get a job. It was different when I was growing up. But not for a nurse—they’d get you even if you were dead.

Little Beth: After school I was engaged, so I did what my husband was going to do. It wasn’t a time when women did what they wanted to do. We did what [men] wanted to do. If this job is throwing you such a curve and making you hesitant, then no.

Lorraine: Follow your passion… But we all have our doubts.

Susan: I had a job that I doubted once. It turned out well. I was a camp director, and they wanted me to sign a 3-year contract. I said, “I don’t know if I can stay for 3 years, but I’ll try my best.” I ended up staying for 24 years!

Richard: Look at the money and your life. Are they offering a lot of money, but you’d be working a lot of hours? Will you enjoy it? If you enjoy the job, you won’t be wishing every day that you’re doing something else. One of [my family business’s] biggest contractors was Bowdoin College. We moved all the antiques, all the pianos, all the heavy stuff. I never got up in the morning and dreaded going to work. I always enjoyed meeting people. Most of them were real nice.

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