02/10/2014 03:56 pm ET Updated Apr 12, 2014


Louise Morgan via Getty Images

Unfortunately, the United States is one of the few countries in the world which holds little reverence or respect for their elders. Other countries honor them, take them into their homes as they age and seek their wisdom. The Native Americans valued their counsels of elders, but today, we tend to warehouse family members when they get older.

What a loss! There's so much we can learn from them. They've experienced the very things we're often struggling with. They've seen the world change and learned how to adjust to it. Can you imagine not having an airplane to get on when you want to go somewhere? Can you imagine not having Google when you needed information? Can you imagine only being able to contact someone by a dial telephone, and often with a party line of other people listening in on your conversation? Can you imagine needing cash and having to wait until the bank opened? Can you imagine hearing that men were going to land on the moon? And one of my personal favorites, being out of books to read and having the library and book store closed. What? No Kindle? Our elders have seen all of that and more.

We recently had some neighbors over for dinner and one of them commented that one of our guest's lives would make a great novel. Naturally, my interest was piqued! When she was 14, she'd taken a train from Berlin across Germany during WWII to see her newly-born nephew. Her story was fascinating. She told of having to get out of the train two and three times a day because of air raids. 14? And traveling by herself! Can you imagine? Today, we have apps on our smartphones so we know the exact location of our children. Many parents won't let their children out in front of their house unless an adult is with them. 14? And traveling by herself? That's a book in the making. And to think I've been waving to her and meeting her at the mailbox on a daily basis for over 20 years and yet really knew nothing about her. My loss!

There's an elderly man who comes to our house once a week to pick our papers up and recycle them. He's had a stroke and I've admired him for years for doing this. I'm sure it would be a lot easier for him to stay in his house rather than walk up to people's side yards and get the papers. It can't be easy to be in a body that only half responds. When he didn't come for three weeks, I realized I knew nothing about him. I'd been far too busy doing the "stuff" in my life that I'd never taken the time to connect with him. Naturally, being a writer, my mind began making up stories about where he was. Of course I wondered about his health. Then I wondered if he'd gone back home, to Mexico. I'd heard him speak in a very heavy accent, so I assumed (and it was an assumption) that he'd come here from Mexico. But no matter how many stories I conjured up, none made up for the fact that I had not made the time to find out anything about him. He returned and I took the time and wondered why it had taken me so long. The stories he told took me took me to other places and captivated me. I think he enjoyed it as well. Now when I wave to him, I feel I know him, at least a little bit. It was a lesson we all need to learn -- to take the time to connect with people.

Are we missing out on our elders' stories because we get so caught up in our busyness and don't take the time to listen? We have every time-saving device known to mankind, but do they really save us time? Seems to me everyone's a whole lot more hurried trying to do as much as they can in the shortest amount of time possible.

I recently spent a few days in Montana. People actually wasted (as many would say) an afternoon just sitting around a picnic table talking and telling stories. One of the older women told how she would sing to the wild horses at midnight in the mountains when she was younger and they would lay down at her feet. Can you imagine? If I hadn't been able to take the time to sit around that table, I never would have known about the wild horses in the mountains and it would have been my loss!

The next time that older person starts to talk, listen and ask some questions. You might get some firsthand knowledge from someone who's experienced what you've only read about!