Sometimes it's really a good thing to be this kind of "tweener". I've heard it said that everyone should have friends both younger and older than themselves. I've certainly found this to be edifying in the past but somehow in recent years, being a tweener of the sandwich generation variety has been more demanding and energy sapping than renewing or fulfilling. I'd practically begun to view my plight as one of life's negatives, rather than drawing on the positive aspects of where I am along life's timeline.
Recently I unrepentantly found myself with a week of semi-free time to catch up on mini projects, make phone calls, meet with friends, etc. On one of those days, I had an opportunity to have my eyes reopened to the simple joy of conversation with two ladies who not only live their lives in totally different generations, but also in totally different cultural settings. Both of them blessed me tremendously and renewed my sense of well-being in living life to the fullest as a tweener.
The first lady was someone I'd met a few months earlier. She helps with a food ministry at her church. I'm not sure how old she is, but she happened to mention she was excused from jury duty since she is "over 75". Over the course of about fifteen minutes, she shared that, plus the fact that she had been married 52 years before her husband died from brain tumors, and how hard it was near the end, but how grateful she was he was "able" to die at home. She also told me about his life-long career at Goodyear Aerospace in Akron, and how much harder life is "being alone". Her advice to young women contemplating divorce is they should try the "alone" life for two months and they would find that it is not that easy.
This pleasant lady named Elizabeth is a quilter ("a lost art" as she says) and had three more weeks till a cast came off her arm, which she injured in a fall at her daughter's home. She sure hopes she can quilt again.
Through all this conversation she wasn't whining or bitter about her lot in life, just contemplative and like the older woman passing wisdom down to the next generation, she had a slight sense of urgency to get her words out. Her summary of her life so far: "I've been so blessed." Well Elizabeth, you've blessed me too, and I thank you for sharing part of yourself with me. May I be so blessed as to grow into my older years with a similar grace, kindness, and gentleness of spirit.
A short time after my visit with Elizabeth, I headed over to the nail salon to have myself pampered a bit. Tiffany, my manicurist, is I would guess in her early '30's. For the past couple years since I've been patronizing this shop, I've felt a nudge to get to know her better. She's very cute and sweet, and I'm so intrigued with these Vietnamese people who have come over here and work so hard. At the risk of stereotyping, they seem to be quite artistic as well, and have found quite a niche for their skills.
So what has prevented me in the past from getting to know Tiffany? Well, she is fairly soft-spoken (they ALL are!) and she speaks with a strong accent. Plus these people, from my observations, tend to be quite serious while they are working. I've always held back from starting any kind of a real conversation for fear I either would not hear or understand her. But for some reason, this particular day was different. Perhaps I was buoyed by my earlier encounter with Elizabeth, I don't know. But this time conversation flowed freely.
In the time it took Tiffany to do my nails (and she is fast), I entered a totally foreign-to-me world. She told me how she came to this country at age four with her parents, who were considered war refugees. I learned from Tiffany that the United States had opened its borders to these people in the aftermath of the Viet Nam war. She told me how desperate they were to get, as she put it, "hope for a future." She said that any Vietnamese woman who had a child fathered by a U.S. serviceman over there was automatically eligible to come over, along with her other children, and they all could easily become U.S. citizens. She said a lot of these women gathered up nieces and nephews and children of friends and claimed them as their own so they could get in on this shot at a better life. I was amazed! And humbled. I was certainly not born into a privileged family with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I've never known anything of his kind of desperation.
I asked Tiffany if she'd ever "go back." She hesitated for several seconds with her head cocked in an angle that said "I don't think so", but then she said "only if I could take my kids to show them the country." Then she laughed and added, half in jest and all in earnest, "or to shop! Everything is so cheap over there." Yeah, I guess so, with many making wages of only $5 a month. Tiffany took great pride in how nice my nails looked, and I gave her a $5 tip after 35 minutes of work.
Yes, she has certainly found "hope for a future" here. I wondered about her eternal future. I have no idea if she is a Buddhist, a Christian, or a nothing religiously speaking. There is a little Buddha shrine in the shop. I hope I'll find the courage to ask her sometime and perhaps I can share Jesus with her. I wonder if she's ever been introduced to Him?
I left feeling quite jubilant that we had actually talked on a personal level and she so openly shared some personal things about her life with me. I feel that we had definitely connected and perhaps someday I can be the "older woman" passing on wisdom. Being a "tweener' in the sandwich generation felt good that day. Really awesome, actually. I sort of felt like I spent the day walking on holy ground.
Post Script: It has probably been a year and a half since the day I wrote about above. I found this in a journal. I've never seen Elizabeth again, and I've never had another opportunity (yet) to speak with Tiffany in such an intimate way. This is a reminder of how important it is to live each day to the fullest and take advantage of opportunities as they come our way to be relational with people. We have no guarantee of tomorrow. Each day is a gift, and like someone has said, that's why it is called "the present."