The donkey and the well

Posted: December 9th, 2016 | Featured, Senior Matters | No Comments

By William E. Kelly | Senior Matters

Senior Matters is a column of reality, hope, history — and information and stories that are of curiosity, interest and/or assistance to readers of all ages — as perceived, seen and experienced by me, a youth who lived to become a senior.


William E. Kelly

As such, it seems reasonable to share a little bit about the journey my husband Bob and I have taken to “seniordom.” Together we have survived nearly half a century of the challenges, tests and trials of life in a homophobic world.

We lived in Chicago, where a mutual friend introduced us in the fall of 1978, thinking we would have a lot in common since we were both bankers. Bob was a likable, savvy, well-traveled man brought up in a California beach town who exuded confidence and spoke of things I knew little about. I was a friendly but naive Mid-Westerner.

If ever there was a more unlikely pairing, it was us. Our backgrounds, families, interests, experiences and most of our character traits couldn’t have been more opposite. It was hardly a surprise that we would resist our initial introduction, where neither of us was impressed with nor drawn to the other. To say there was no spark would be an understatement. We merely exchanged brief, civilized pleasantries and headed our separate ways with a polite nod of acknowledgement.

An unplanned meeting in a Chicago watering hole suggestively called The Bushes on Jan. 5, 1979, gave us a second chance. I was sitting at the bar when Bob came in and sat next to me. We sipped our beers and gradually found ourselves sharing stories about our lives.

Hours later the lights dimmed and the bartender announced “last call.” Suddenly it was 2 a.m. and that something that drew us together was about to unknowingly shape our futures in ways we could not possibly have imagined.

I smiled and said, “Would you like to go for a coffee?”

His response was more characteristic of my boldness than his reserve, when he replied, “I really had more than coffee in mind.”

Yes, we were attracted to each other, but what drew us together like the opposite poles of a magnet was not just a physical attraction. In our lost hours of conversation, we had touched on and discovered our common core values of trust, loyalty, love and friendship, all which would become the foundation of the rest of our inseparable lives.

As a child I asked my grandmother what it was like to be old. She replied with a story that will set the tone and focus of future writings. I share that story with you now:

One day, a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, the farmer decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway, so it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They each grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down into the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that had hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing; he had shaken it off and taken a step up.

As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take another step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off.

Life is going to shovel all kinds of dirt on us all. Our job is to shake it off and help others brush off what they can’t shake off. Each of our troubles is a stepping stone. We never stop. We never give up. We free our hearts of hatred and our minds of worries about what could happen. We focus on appreciating what we have and not on what we are missing. We expect less from others, more from ourselves and give a hand to others who need our help.

This column will not be a series of woe-is-me articles, a wringing of hands or a Pollyanna story of happily ever after. Nether will it be about merely surviving the senior years; but rather how you, your friends and families can thrive in them.

Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. This is your column. Please email me with your thoughts, concerns and the senior matters that are important to you and those you love and care for.

—Bill Kelly is a longtime local activist who currently focuses on LGBT senior issues and moderates the Caring for our LGBT Seniors in San Diego Facebook page. Access to the group is free to all seniors, their advocates, families, friends and caregivers. Reach Bill at

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