I think of myself as someone who moves forward and enjoys progress, but I also believe in the importance of learning from the past. I have continually evolved over time, but in a pace that is far from being radical. I am not the person that I once was, but I like to think that I have kept the best features of my past life and used them to become a better version of myself. I am a mix of past, present and future.
Both the joys and the disappointments in my past have made me strong. My father left my life when I was only eight years old. I would forever miss him but his influence on me was already strong. He instilled a love of music, reading and learning in me that has guided me for my entire life. I have tried to give this same gift to my children, grandchildren and students as well. I still miss my father and often wonder what it might have been like to know him as an adult, but I do not dwell on the “might have beens” for long. There is no reason to do so.
My mother had a profound influence on me as well. She was a strong woman until she was not. She held herself together long enough to get me and my brothers to a point in our lives when we were capable of fending for ourselves, then her bipolar disorder took hold and she was never again quite the same. It was her optimism even in the face of tragedies that most formed me. She was a warrior who fought back against her difficulties and kept looking to a bright future even when it seemed impossible to do so. Never once did she allow her many setbacks to steal her joy.
My mother often advised me to look forward, not back. She believed that there was a season for everyone. She urged me to know when it was time to hand over the reins of leadership to the younger generation even as she sometimes fought me when I attempted to care for her when she was sick. She possessed a kind of wisdom learned from the toughness of her life that saved me more than once. She helped me to understand my students who were mostly immigrants like her whose families struggled financially. She made me a better teacher and person than I might otherwise have been with her sage advice.
I have often spoken of my grandfather who understood perhaps better than anyone that there is no turning back to the past and who believed that we would not want to do so even if we had the opportunity. He reveled in the modern world and waited expectantly for the marvels of the future. He boasted about the first time he saw a city lit up with electricity, the moment he witnessed a plane flying in the sky, and the exhilaration of seeing a man walking on the moon. He encouraged me to be open to change, to appreciate the past but to embrace the future.
So here I am finding myself applauding the young people of the world who are courageous enough to share their dreams for society. While I might see a few problems with their thinking, I also understand that we never have made progress without being brave enough to try things that have never before been done. Without innovative thought the world would be stagnant. We would still be living in unhealthy conditions and most of us would be untutored and ignorant. The marvels of our world today once sounded outrageous but now we take them for granted.
I may not agree with everything that Alexandria Ocasio Cortez says, but I admire the fact that she is attempting to bring about a better world for others. I like her spunkiness and honesty. I imagine that she might have been a voice like James Monroe or Alexander Hamilton at the beginning of our nation. Monroe was only eighteen when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Hamilton was only twenty one. We often forget how young the revolutionaries who gave birth to our country actually were. We admit that their’s was not a perfect union, but it was nonetheless a good start, a grand experiment that the people were willing to try.
I’m an old dog but I am still learning new tricks all of the time. I want to know how to use the latest technology. I dream of owning an electric car and having solar panels on my roof. I would love to see a working mass transit system thriving in my city that is clogged with traffic and pollution. I am willing to adjust the way I have been living to accommodate the realities of our ever changing world. The pioneers of old were forward thinking people. They were risk takers just like the ones we have today. There have always been individuals willing to lead the way to a better tomorrow. I am fascinated by those who have the kind of minds that envision the future.
It should be apparent to everyone that we are at a watershed moment in history all over the world. If our future is to be bright we have to change the ways we have become accustomed to doing things. It may require the kind of sacrifices that my grandparents from Czechoslovakia made when they took a leap of faith in crossing the ocean to begin a new life with little knowledge of were that might lead them. That is how I want to be.
I look to the future just as those who came before me did. I feel optimistic and adventurous just as my mother always was. I see good in those who are innovative and young like my children and grandchildren. I see a bright future for those willing to look forward rather than trying to recreate the past. There is much that we can do to save ourselves, our nation and our planet. Today is a good day to start.