7 life lessons from interviewing a 90-years old

It has always been a hard question for me, do we record and preserve our most valuable moments or people? do we want to keep them and their stories even after they’re gone? or simply respect and cherish the creed of now, the ephemeral nature of moments, the fading out.

On his 90th birthday, I decided to interview my grandfather, sit down with him, ask him all the things I wanted to know, what does matter when you’re 90 and what goes away? I wanted these hours with him to be solely about his life and perspective, without any personal questions, but that was a hard result to wish for when you’re conducting an interview with your own grandfather who filled your whole life with tenderness and warmth. As I prepped and wrote down my I also asked my instagram followers to participate with me asking “What would you want to ask a 90-years old if you had the chance”.

I received a lot of questions, and happily asked them all framed within conversations that lasted for more than 4 hours for each session.

As a brief introduction, my grandfather who happens to celebrate his 90th birthday (approximately, he doesn’t have his accurate birth certificate) is a Saudi bedouin from Shaqraa, he had lived in a tent, in a mud house, his village was not introduced to tea, coffee or even sugar until later on in his adolescence, he travelled for months on a camel with his father, from town to town, he managed to be on the top of his class, got introduced to the world right after he got a scholarship to study abroad, completed his studies in germany (had a light conversation in german with him, impressively remembers some lines, with an amusing accent haha!), and then he roamed the world, ending up in Jordan for work, where he fell in love, got married a second time, and settled here.

Looking back at your life, are you a satisfied man?

“I’d like to think I am, you’d be surprised of how much you can forget and forgive at this point in your life, I’d like to think I did my best to please my god, my family and the people I’ve encountered, and I can only hope for the best now, I can only hope.

*long pause* I am a satisfied man.”

What is the hardest truth you had to accept? or still can’t accept?

“I don’t know how can I begin to even talk about this, the hardest thing you can encounter in life, is people. We have been given each other, to live and do good by one another. I find it hard for me to accept that sometimes we can easily ruin beautiful relationships with the most precious creatures, we leave a lot of relationships to wreckage thinking there’s time, we burn bridges and sometimes even with no smoke in sight, we simply let it dim, and then one day, when they’re gone for good, it’s irrecoverable. I find it hard to accept sometimes, how foolish we can be leaving beautiful relations neglected, reaching the point of no-return.”

What would you have done differently?

“I wouldn’t change a thing, I have been through a lot, but it has been a part of the experience, the happy moments, the hardships, the tests, they were all meant to take you somewhere, I have lived in the desert as a bedouin, commuted on a camel, no electricity or lights, and right now I am sitting in a modern home, holding my smartphone, watching my family from all over the world, being interviewed by my beautiful granddaughter, sitting in front of a fascinating gadget that records what I say and do. What a world I’ve seen! I wouldn’t change a thing.”

What do you regret the most?

“I know I might sound arrogant when I say I do not regret any of my life decisions, it has all taken me somewhere, but the one thing I regret the most, is hurting some precious people around me, I might be forgiven by them, but looking back at these relationships, I think to myself; maybe I don’t deserve their fondness, I feel small and not worthy of their forgiveness, It really stays with you, the pain you’ve given other people around you. I certainly regret these moments. This will stay with you, you would definitely regret and remember, the wounds you gift to those you love the most.”

What is the greatest thing you have been through? the most painful?

“You know Jude? when my mother passed away, I cried my eyes out, for night after night, thinking it was the end of my world, It was truly a painful moment for me, but no pain is greater than the pain of losing your own son or daughter, I have no name for it, I am not orphaned, or widowed, it’s an unnamable indescribable sort of pain. It was unimaginable to me, how can they go before I go? I love all my children dearly, but my first daughter, my darling Salwa had a special place in my heart, I still ache for her loss, tears still surprise me. Before she was taken from me, my eyes have dried out, I have prayed and prayed, recited the quran in full, stood by her in this battle against sickness and death, I witnessed her powerful endurance, my dear Salwa (habeebati). This is the most agonizing pain any parent can suffer, the death of his own child.

But I am still grateful to god, my child’s loss has taught me to love harder.”

What is one memory you cannot forget?

“I want to let you in on a little secret, I know i look like a handsome young man, but I have the memory of a 90-years old man!”

(laughters and conversations, teta yells in the background)

continues:

“Life from age, I can honestly say that you forget a lot of trivial moments, things you thought are important at the time, hardships and bad memories, but most of it is truly forgotten and gone. Now, you remember the simple things, the beautiful moments, my mind tends to cling to these moments the most, I always go back to my childhood, it was the lightest and sweetest of all years, our adventures in my village, my mother’s scolding, the times we begged for sugar in our milk, and the evening songs. I have so many memories my brain cling to. When you have a fragile mind, your brain cells will make space for the beautiful moments only, believe me. The pain you fear now, will be long forgotten, and good memories last, if that’s what you want to know.

that’s the purpose of your question, right?”

I am now in my twenties, would you share an honest life tip with me?

“- a tip? how much money do you make now?
– $$$
– my tip is that you give half of that to your grandfather.”

“But seriously, I know this had been said a hundred times, but it’s true. I was once poor, I lived humbly and I was a happy man. I was once rich, invested, roamed and traveled, still a happy man. I know sometimes the lack of something will make your life seem miserable, but one can never have it all, you can be happy anyway, you have to at least try, not spend your time in agony waiting for a void to be filled. You should always adapt and be satisfied. I am not saying stop being ambitious, okay? Strive for a 100, but be happy with the 20 you got in hand, do not curse it, the road to your goal would be radiant, and much more beautiful.”

Wonderful conversations and life stories, hundreds of raw data, unedited, untouched, I thought I would share some interesting questions that might be useful and inspiring to put out, I handpicked these questions, the answers brimmed with stories and discussions, they were made brief or quoted for the purpose of publishing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *