The Effects of 81 Years

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

What if you were eighty-one years old when you saw a photo of yourself for the first time? Elma was.

We sounded joyless as we warbled, “Take me out to the balllllgame, take me out to the crowwdd, buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks…” our voices falling flat as we rushed through the final stanza. A dozen South African senior citizens applauded our tone-deaf performance.

My family and I were in Cape Town, visiting a local senior center, where the aroma of curry from the bean-and-vegetable chakalaka that was served for lunch hung enticingly thick in the room. We were participating in a cultural exchange, to learn about one another’s lifestyle.

When the South Africans sang in response, the men and women rose slowly, gripping tables for balance, and arranged themselves with purpose, standing erect. We had remained seated throughout our uninspired number; I felt embarrassed for having failed to afford them the same courtesy. A heavy moment passed while these octogenarians summoned every ounce of energy available to them. Then, an eruption. Stomping, clapping, harmonizing, swaying joyfully, they purred and roared through their song, telling a story in a language that wasn’t ours, a story they helped us understand through their...

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