We sit around the table each evening talking with my father-in-law. I’ve learned more about him in the past eight months than I knew after more than fifty years of being around him. He’s a bit old fashioned about the relationships of men and women. Most of the time when my husband and I went to visit him the men would excuse themselves and leave the women to talk. My conversations with my father-in-law tended to be brief and of little substance. What knowledge I had about him came from the comments of his wives. Now I hear his stories and opinions every single day for an hour or two before, during and after dinner.
I’m from the Baby Boomer generation and we were just as defiant in our quest to be more forward thinking than our Greatest generation parents as today’s young folk are. We rebelled much as all young adults tend to do. We thought we knew more than our parents because we often enjoyed the gift of being more educated than they were. They grew up in a different kind of era and it showed.
Now we Baby Boomers are gray in the hair and long in the tooth, two generations removed from our grandchildren. Some among us even have great grandchildren. The young folk protest that we do not understand what it is like to be coming of age in today’s world and I suspect that they are correct. We are at the end of our lifelong journey while they a just beginning theirs. Our worldviews are by definition tinged with differing events that influenced the ways in which we think.
Those conversations with my almost ninety four year old father-in-law have amused me because of the stark differences in the way he and I see the world. While I am still just young enough to celebrate change, he is stuck in days of long ago. He prefers to watch old movies, listen to old music, and go back to a time that felt easier and safer to him. He is not interested in politics or the fate of other people or nations. He’s tired and simply wants to enjoy however many days he has left without any concerns outside of himself.
I suppose that is the way we humans always are. We reach an age of simply wanting to stop the clock as we reach back in time for our most precious memories. We become too tired to be open to new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking. It’s both amazing and concerning to me that I too may one day settle into a phase of not even wanting to hear what is happening outside of my tiny little world, and yet I worry that one day it will happen to me as well.
I recently had a wellness visit with my physician. He wanted to know how my life was going. When I told him that I was helping to care for my father-in-law he rolled his eyes and commented that I was “an old person caring for an old person.” I laughed because I have yet to think of myself as being old. I’m quite energetic and I read profusely to learn as much about current events, discoveries and ways of doing things as possible. I still interact regularly with my young students and gain knowledge from them as well. I like the new music and discuss the difficulties of today’s young adults with my grandchildren. I want to believe that I am keeping myself current and young at heart but I see differences now and again that speak to the evolution of each generation that has been taking place since the beginning of time. I realize that I seem “old” to people who only peripherally know me.
I suppose that I too will one day become more set in my ways but I secretly hope that I will live out my life like my Grandpa Little did. He somehow remained young at heart throughout his one hundred eight years. He was a forward thinking man who appreciated progress. He mused on his life and boasted that he would never want to fall backward in time. Perhaps his outlook is what helped him to thrive for so many years. He was as current as a twenty year old until the last few months of his life when his body began to turn on him.
Like Grandpa I see the future and hear the voices of the young with their yearning to have the opportunity to try their hands at leading the world. They are more open to exciting new ways of doing things than we are. They are ready to build a better world than the one that they have inherited. They have ideas that they are anxious to convey. We would do well to hear them out before judging them.
I think that every generation has difficulty understand those that come after them. They are wary of turning over the reins of power because they cling to old ideas, outdated ways of doing things. Because we live longer and longer lives the adults behind us have to wait longer and longer to get opportunities to be in charge. We would be wise to step aside to give them the respect that they deserve.
I used to seek out my Grandpa Little for wisdom because he was truly an elder statesman. He moved with the times but also saw the whole picture of his life. He was willing to tell us about the mistakes of the past as well as the glories. He taught me to learn from truth rather than to hide from things that made me uneasy. I hope I can follow his example because the fact of life is that I will become less and less relevant if I am unwilling to accept that there is a constant evolution in the way we humans do things. My goal is to grow old in body but never in mind.