Moving to Macedonia and staying with a host family for the past 6 months I’ve realized that my contact with older people as been far and few between in my childhood and early twenties. I remember I did several visits to “old folks homes” for French class and in elementary to sing Christmas carols. I visited my grandparents every year. My grandparents were full of wisdom and hilarious stories. I couldn’t imagine having crazy and silly stories of my own that would keep others interested and tuned in.
The past six months, I have had more conversations with older men and women than I ever have before. I think old age scares me. The thought that your life and body have been through so much and your life is coming to a close, a close that means you have lived. There are so many things I want to do. I am a dreamer and age scares me because I am afraid I won’t accomplish all the things on my long dreamer list.
The past months has changed my horrible generalization. I have learned that with this wisdom comes being content and happy with the life you have lived. Somehow I pictured older folks not being content where they are at and wanting more. I think most older folks I have met in Macedonia are truly content and accepting what they have accomplished in life. Their satisfaction has rubbed off on me and I am grateful to see that as the years add on, I will find my stride and become content.
My grandfather is honestly one of my favorite human beings when he was alive. He was a man that filled every room with joy and glee. He was present. He constantly cared and showed his affection. I will never forget one time I visited my grandparents. I came all on my own by plane. When I landed, I bursted into tears. I am a diver into new adventures and I don’t think at 10/12 years old I took the time to process the adventure I was diving into. I cried for an hour straight as my grandparents concerningly tried to figure out what to do with me. My grandfather, one of the most people smart human beings, knew what to do. We stopped at an ice cream shop and I got to pick out a triple scoop ice cream cone. At that very second my tears vanished. I knew my grandfather was there to make sure I would have a good time.
As the years go by, I am realizing how precious people with wisdom are. I am grateful to be surrounded by older women ready to tell me about their lives and give me advice. Now, not everything I can swallow and embrace, but just the fact that it is there for me to dip into and process is amazing.
I have never really thought about marriage and children that much. I have always thought about other things. Other priorities in my life. I figured that when the time was right, I would know, just like everything else has. Here, marriage and children is front and center. Everyone talks about these things because in their culture they are extremely important. One of my counterparts and one of my best host country national friends told me the other day, “Kelly, if you do not have children, I will fly to wherever you are and slap you in the face. Having children was the best thing I have ever done. You will love and care about someone more than anyone else in your entire life. You will have produced this living being. Having that deep of a connection and that connection is only between you and that other living being is something I think you must experience.” Once she said that, I was in complete shock. What do I say? How do I go about responding to that? I do not have any experience with having children, but she certainly made me look at having my own children differently.
One of the wise volunteers I occasionally seek advice from the other day told me that my service is not about being happy or it being easy. I am here for the challenge and the hardships. They are what is going to make me grow. Growing pains are a part of my service. Right now, I am struggling with connecting deeper with HCNs (Host Country Nationals). The women my age are married and have kids. The men my age that are not married are on a quest for a wife. I find myself honestly the odd duckling trying to fit in and find my place.
The important thing is I am trying not to throw in the towel. The friendships I have started. The connections I have made. I am trying to celebrate and the friendships I dream of and the connections I want–trying to find them in the mix of the language and cultural barriers.