A bridge between two generations

Every afternoon, in a quiet corner of the nursing home where light streamed through a large window, an elderly man sat alone at his table in the bustling restaurant. His eyes often gazed outside, as if trying to grasp what lay beyond the pane, while the world outside relentlessly surged forward.
As a regular visitor, I had noticed that sometimes he would burst into tears unexpectedly. An attentive staff member, who had also observed his silent struggles, approached me with a simple request: if I could find some time to listen to him.

With a cautious smile, I asked if I might join him for company. He responded with a slow, but heartfelt nod. As soon as I sat next to him, he began to talk about his youth. He spoke of his father, the milkman, and how he took over his first milk route at the age of sixteen. As he spoke, a serene calm filled the space around us, a welcome change from the usual hustle and bustle of the restaurant.

As the afternoon progressed and the restaurant emptied, I escorted him to his room. We were almost at the door when he suddenly began to cry. Gently, I led him inside, and we sat down together as tears freely streamed down his cheeks. Softly, I asked him where he was in his thoughts when he felt so sad.

He looked at me with a mix of doubt and pain, wrestling with whether to share his heart. After a brief silence, he whispered, “Bandung. I had to go to Indonesia.” His words were laden with emotion, and the tears flowed more freely as he talked about the fear that had overwhelmed him there. It wasn’t homesickness, but a crippling fear that haunted him, he explained. He shared how life-saving advice to take a different route had saved him from a deadly ambush.

The room was filled with deep silence until he began recalling memories of Bandung, Bogor, and Sukabumi. I took a deep breath and addressed him in a few words of Bahasa Indonesia, the language my father had taught me and had spoken during his mandatory service in the former Dutch Indies. The man looked up, surprised.

Gradually, a smile replaced the tears. He clasped my hands and shared stories of romances, the beauty of the land, the delicious food, but also about the fear, the tremendous loss of lives, friends he had lost, shame, and anger he had experienced during the war. He inquired about my father, the longing, and I expressed my gratitude that he shared his stories, as my father had never spoken about them.

It turned into an afternoon of connection, where emotions brought us closer together than words ever could. Together, we built a bridge between generations and between our hearts simply by making space for each other’s stories and emotions.

Art: The connection, Meri Martoian