Erin's Journals

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Just a thought… The best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person. [Andy Rooney]

“Tell me a story.”

Those four words, whether I said them to Rob at night long after he was ready to go to sleep (in the years when he could hear me) or were in my mind as I searched documentaries and biographies late into the night, have steered my soul. It’s why the Calm app and a tiny pillow speaker usher me into sleep nightly with a fairy tale, a train trip through foreign lands or a view of the stars as described by an astronaut. They soothe my soul and spark my spirit.

One of my favourite times is talking weekly with my dad on the phone. As I sit, coffee in hand and iPhone on speaker, during our half-hour talks we cover an entire 24-hour news channel’s topics: latest headlines, weather, sports and, of course, human interest. But I love dad’s own stories most.

When the opportunity arose for me to interview seniors who are in the same COVID-locked-down boat as my dad, my interest was piqued. I was approached by a production company to audition as host/interviewer for Elder Wisdom | Stories from the Green Bench, a podcast for and about seniors.

The guests come from seniors’ residences in Southwestern Ontario; they’re pre-interviewed and then, at an agreed-upon time, they sit with a producer, laptop and microphone in front of them, and from my home studio also with a producer (Rob), laptop and microphone, I get to talk to these men and women.

So far I’ve chatted with a man and woman in their eighties and another gentleman who’s 95. Their stories range from travels and tragedies to inspiration and encouragement. All have the underlying thread of wisdom and advice. There have been a few tears, yes, but the messages are positive – every one of them.

What’s in it for me? Besides having the opportunity to work closely as host/producer with Rob, it’s so much more than a job: it’s a chance to hear stories of people so much like my dad but with widely varying experiences. And I love to ask questions that these people haven’t been asked and hear stories that those close to them have already heard (or perhaps a few will be revelations to their own family members). But it’s just a great joy to connect with the storytellers of our parents’ generation.

What’s in it for you? Ah, THAT is the most important question, as it always was in my radio life, to which this bears a few lovely resemblances: what’s in it for the listener?

I’d love to think you’ll feel you’ve had a chance to sidle up next to our guests as they sit on the virtual Green Bench which is, in reality, an actual place in the Schlegel Villages retirement communities, where someone can sit to let others know they just want to visit, have a talk, or they desire company. A Speaker’s Corner, if you will. Of course, the physical contact is at a bare minimum now, but here – via this podcast – we are bringing these people, their families and even strangers, like you, together.

Our first podcast has launched and and it’s free to listen to; you can find it here. Rob put the music and clips together, edited the interviews and made this half-hour with Doug, a hospitality worker who tells some great stories (including his chat with the Queen Mum) but also gets real about the heartache of his wife of over 50 years being in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I even have a co-host! Lloyd Hetherington is 85 years old and has lived a fascinating life of teaching, travel and ministry through the Salvation Army. He asks some beautiful questions and has a perspective and wisdom that only he can bring to this show.

There will be more podcasts; we’ve done three interviews so far, with three more on the way. I’d love for you to subscribe, listen, share and rate this podcast – Elder Wisdom | Stories from the Green Bench. I think that we can all use a little bit of green bench in our lives these days. And we’ll save you a seat. Thank you!

Rob WhiteheadThursday, October 22, 2020