Welcome to the online version of The Gathering of the Wisdom People, a unique photo/oral history exhibit on aging.This online version includes not only photographs and text, but also a sort of music soundtrack and video clips of a few of the wisdom people.
This exhibit grew out of an experience I had in the summer of 1997. I live in a very remote part of the Texas hill country and I was asked to drive an elderly neighbor, Dr. James Pittman who was 92 years old at the time, from his ranch in Utopia,Texas to San Antonio- a distance of about 90 miles.While I did not mind the driving, I very much minded the idea of spending that amount of time-an hour and a half- with someone that old. I imagined that he would probably be extremely deaf and unable to hear me and that even if he could hear, there would be absolutely nothing to talk about, nothing that we would have in common.Worse than that, was my fear that he was so old and frail that he might become ill or even die on the way.
But it turned out that I was wrong........ about everything. In fact I was in for a big surprise and one of the most significant learning experiences of my life.
Dr. Pittman was on the front porch waiting for me when I drove up the dusty road to his ranch house on that hot summer day. Immaculately dressed in a western suit, shining black cowboy boots and a Stetson hat, he was looking forward to going to the horse races and his blue eyes were literally twinkling. "You and I are going to get along just fine," he said as he took my arm to walk out to the car, and in that that moment, a conversation started that never stopped until we got to San Antonio. Mostly he told me stories from his life-a life that included growing up in rural Arkansas and losing his father at an early age, working both as a school janitor and on the railroad to support his widowed mother, participating in World War 2 as a physician and surviving the Battle of the Bulge, rising to the very top of Houston's medical community as chief of staff and head of the surgical department of a large teaching hospital, and finally, spending his retirement years as a full time rancher.
In a very dramatic and powerful way, these stories made me feel at peace and in tune with life and its seasons-as if there really is a right time and place for everything and therefore nothing to fear. When his daughter met us on the outskirts of San Antonio to drive him the rest of the way, I didn't want to give him up.
A few weeks later, I went back to Dr. Pittman's ranch to take some photographs of him and a few months later, inspired by the photographs and the stories, I decided to go in search of other people in this age group with the idea of creating an exhibit.
There are 18 people in this exhibit which I named The Gathering of the Wisdom People but you will only be seeing 8 of them in this online version. They are almost all in their nineties (or very close to) and I think you will notice that they share many of the same values though they come from all walks of life, races and religions.
What I noticed and the qualities that impressed me most were first of all, a great sense of humor and the ability to remain fairly lighthearted about life.All of them seemed to possess also, a strong sense of commitment- their word could and can always be counted on. They have all lived through some very difficult times whether it be the Great Depression, World War or the Holocaust and they have also experienced significant personal losses with which they have come to peace. Having reached the understanding that these losses are a natural part of life, they have truly learned to count their blessings and so they seem to live mainly in the moment, not worrying too much about the future. Money and material things are not as important to them as they are to many of us, the younger generations. Many of them have grown their own food because they had to and they have at times, lived with very little so they know how to survive-emotionaly, spiritually and physically. Finally, most of them have been contributors throughout their lives - to their communities and to their world. Even well into their 90s, many of them continue to do volunteer work. For me, the wisdom people represent the values in life that are simple and true and eternal-and for me, the opportunity to spend time with them is an opportunity to encounter the Real.