Wisdom gained at a young age often comes in the crucible of pain

Last month I wrote about aging being inevitable and the vitality of youth giving way to the wisdom of aging. I used information gleaned from a presentation by Dr. Stephen Sapp of the University of Miami and the American Society on Aging.

This month I would like to look at the topic from the perspective of those who don’t survive to the inevitability of aging and its wisdom.

One such local example was Amanda Kent about whom I have written “Mandy’s Story.” Born on May 7, 1976, with spina bifida, and living only until she was 37 years old, Mandy achieved many things in her life despite the life-altering changes that this dreaded disease exacted on her and her parents, Donna and Richard Kent.

In the life-long crucible of illness and pain, Mandy gained the wisdom that usually only comes with age. Perhaps those of us who are older and have difficulties as we age should take a page from Mandy’s story on how to live our lives. That page would include: Mandy’s commitment to her God-given faith, taking charge of how she lived her life, and going above and beyond what she should have been able to achieve.

Mandy’s faith began very early in her life. At age 2 she asked to go to church “to learn about Jesus.” She would attend Sunday school, later sing in the various choirs, be confirmed in the faith, and teach Sunday school and oversee the educational program. She became instrumental in a national youth program of her church known as the Differently Abled Youth Leadership Event to engage people with disabilities in the life of the church. She worked to get people to focus on the “differently abled” aspects of their lives, rather than concentrating on the disability.

Mandy’s abilities, always fostered by her parents, led her to take charge of her life and to accomplish many good things that have inspired all who knew her. Verbal at 5 months of age, Mandy was able to use her talents, not only in her church setting, but also in many public arenas. She became a poster child and spokesperson for March of Dimes with the emphasis on the positive —”Take the Necessary Steps.”

Her 4-H projects often won awards, and she herself said she learned “how important it is to be the ‘best’ that I can be.” She graduated from high school, with her dear friend, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and her dear doctor, Dr. Ben Carson, taking part in the festivities. She went on to earn a college degree in elementary education in 3 1/2 years, although her almost constant hospitalizations kept her from getting a permanent teaching job. She opted for work with the Social Security Administration where her computer skills were invaluable and where she helped people with disabilities get needed coverage.

Mandy’s life was therefore filled with meaningful activities and work. She never let her 100-plus hospitalizations with operations and procedures deter her from what was important in her life. As her pastor, the Rev. Martha Clementson, said in her funeral message about Mandy: “By earthly standards, Mandy might have been a person without purpose or influence … but in God’s way of doing things, Mandy had great purpose and she exercised great influence on many.”

Mandy perhaps best expressed the wisdom she had gained from a life of suffering and pain: “God has given me the faith to help me through the tough times. If I didn’t have my faith I’m not sure I would have made it through all I’ve gone through.” That is wisdom speaking, a wisdom that not many acquire at such a young age.

For those of us who are getting older and are to be dispensing the wisdom that comes with age, let’s make getting older meaningful by continuing to acquire knowledge, by helping our peers and those who are younger, and by living our faith to make the world a better place.

Although “Mandy’s Story” is not for sale, per se, copies may be obtained at the gift shops at Carroll Lutheran Village and at Grace Lutheran Church or Immanuel Lutheran Church for a donation to the Scholarship Fund of Carroll Lutheran School in Mandy’s memory.

Hermine Saunders writes from Westminster. She can be contacted via email at hermines@verizon.net.

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