The wisdom of age


As I’ve grown older and observed the state of the world, I’ve noticed that wisdom does not always come with age. When it does, however, there are great lessons we can learn from our elders.

Case in point: when I was in college, I spent two years living in a house off of Williamson Road in Roanoke with three other guys. On many afternoons, I would join my roommate Mat on our front porch, and we would sit and tell tales until the sun began to sink below the horizon.

Sometimes, if we were very lucky, our next door neighbors would have a fight.

On one side of the house, we had some great neighbors. In fact, we were probably their bad neighbors. But on the other side of the house, we had neighbors who made us look like saints.07

In two years, I never exactly figured out what the relationship was between the folks who lived in this house. At any given time, there appeared to be anywhere from five to twenty people living in the house, including a mix of random teenagers and elderly people who would come and go without notice. The only two mainstays were a man and woman, both probably in their late 20s or early 30s. Sometimes the man would disappear for a few months at a time — we assumed because his attorney wasn’t able to beat the charges — but he would always reappear eventually.

The man and the woman were in a relationship, and what seemed to bind them together was their intense, depthless hatred for one another. They never turned violent, thankfully, but they would have insane, screaming fights that lasted for hours. They sounded like someone had put two Sam Kinisons in a sack and beaten it with a stick.

Mat and I would sit on the front porch and listen. We didn’t have cable and we were poor, so we took our entertainment where we could find it.

Of course, we would never stare. We would never make eye contact. We would simply sit back, listen to the argument, and then offer our own quiet commentary on the proceedings. It was like Ma and Pa Kettle for the 21st century.

One day, however, a fight took a turn.

Mat and I were sitting on the front porch talking when the screaming suddenly began. The man and the woman spilled from the house, yelling at each other about something or other. The man had just returned to the house after one of his month-long absences, and it was clear that he suspected some manner of infidelity had occurred while he was away.

All of this was pretty much par for the course. But then something remarkable happened.

A truck came roaring up the street, a brown truck belonging to a popular parcel delivery service. Like something out of a movie, the driver jammed on the brakes and the truck fishtailed to a stop in front of the neighbor’s house.

And then the delivery driver emerged from the truck, stomped toward the screaming couple, and began screaming at the man.

Within no more than twenty seconds, everything clicked into place, and Mat and I stared at each other wide-eyed.

While the man was in jail, the delivery driver had been dropping off more than just packages.

The man, the woman, and the delivery driver began screaming at each other full-throat. The man got into his car, apparently hoping to drive away, but the delivery truck had blocked him in. This gave the woman the opportunity to begin pelting his car with rocks. It was sheer madness. Mat and I tried to make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible, curious to find out how this would play out but not wanting to draw attention to ourselves.

And that was when Mat and I noticed the little old man across the street.

The old man stepped out onto his front porch. He was wearing a white undershirt, a pair of baggy shorts, and black socks and sandals. He stared at the lunacy unfolding in front of him for a moment and then stepped back inside his house.

I assumed it was all too much for him, but then, just a minute or so later, he stepped back outside, a bag dangling from his hand.

He grabbed a chair off of his front porch and dragged it into his front yard, then sat down and opened his bag.

He removed a six pack of beer and a bag of chips. He opened up the chips, cracked open a beer, and settled in to watch the drama.

I learned an important lesson that day from the wise elder across the street: if someone puts on a show for you, you might as well sit back and enjoy it.



more recommended stories