Reflections on life, marriage, and a young woman who is constantly learning how much there will always be to learn!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

We Need Our Elders

The other night, Micah and I visited a used bookstore. I soon found myself stuck in the antiquarian books section, studying high school year books from the 1920s and 30s. Looking at the school portraits, the first thing I noticed was that virtually every young woman sported the same hairdo. Furthermore, the glassy black and white pictures must have masked minor imperfections, because every girl looked like a model. Smooth skin, just-so hair, lovely smiles.

Old portraits don't give us much of a glimpse of real past lives. But flip towards the backs of the yearbooks, and you will find it. Pictures of animated young people playing sports, at a dance or party, making funny faces, sitting around talking. Captions on pictures that say goofy or nonsense things, and sometimes personal jokes or messages significant only to the people involved. It's a funny feeling to look at these old pictures, finding a connection to the youth and life portrayed there, and then to remember that these folks are probably either long-gone or extremely old. I wonder if their lives felt like a blip. And did things turn out the way they thought they would?

I was blessed to know some of my great-grandparents. One, a great-grandfather, is still living. Another set of great-grandparents enjoyed a 71-year long marriage and both went to be with the Lord during my college years. I always loved to hear their stories. These folks were my connection to history...WWI, the Great Depression, WWII, the end of the industrial era and the beginning of the technological age--they lived it all.

Great-Grandma could tell stories on her daughter, with a twinkle in her how Grandma fell into the, hole. She could tell about meeting Lucille Ball on a train when they were both teenagers. Lucille was planning to become a big star, and wanted Great-Grandma to join her. She could muse about her and Great-Grandpa's courting years, and their marriage when she was only 18 years old. She could laugh about her "flapper" phase the way I laugh about my horrible 80's and early-90's fashion statements. More than just a collection of antecdotes, however, Great-Grandma's long life as a simple farmwife and mother was a tribute to the love, joy and wisdom that comes from walking with God, and is a benediction to those who remember her.

When I studied at Oxford, I had a remarkable tutor by the name of Mr. Henry Lemay. He was quite elderly...I'm guessing in his eighties. During one session, Mr. Lemay began talking of his concerns about Islamic terrorism and the impending war with Iraq. "It is my fear," he said, "that Islamic terrorists will stop at nothing to destroy Israel and those of us who stand in their way. Think about the power they could command over their followers if they accomplished this?"

While I don't believe that Israel will be destroyed (according to Scripture), I was struck by the authenticity of Mr. Lemay's perspective. Here was not some politically-minded theorizer; some posturing dolt. Mr. Lemay had a historical context on which to base his point of view. He had lived through the ravages of WWII, and comprehended the power of evil. He had worked for Winston Churchhill, and so had a direct connection to the events and characters that contributed to that war. Should we newcomers suppose that we understand such things better? Have we advanced beyond the need to face true evil head-on?

It is fascinating to ponder history, and the ties that bind us to it. My own great-grandparents could have had heard first-hand accounts from their elderly acquaintances about the Civil War. Those elderly acquaintances could have (just-about!) heard tales of the Revolutionary war and the building of a young nation from those who saw it happen. We're not so disconnected from the past as we think. Neither are we so far advanced that we should disregard what the past has to teach us.

Elderly people--most now living quietly stuck away in nursing homes--are our connection to lessons of the past. What have they learned in their lives? Did they ever discover true peace and joy? What really matters, after all of the celebrated worldly accoutrements are stripped away, and they are left with nothing but memories and the certainty of a coming final rest? And how should WE then live, knowing that one day (not so far off) we will be there too?


Blogger Mrs.B. said...

What a refreshing post! Especially in our youth-worshipping culture.

4:14 PM, April 04, 2006  
Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

I think this is a wonderful post! It is a never ending source of fascination to contemplate all the things our elders have experienced, how young they once were, and how much more closely connected to the past we are then we think.

7:01 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Susan said...

Very good post! It really struck a chord with me. I actually wrote a blog post about youth, age, and wisdom recently; it sort of ties into your post. I look at the older generation that is fading and dying rapidly and think what wisdom our culture is losing! I wish I had more contact with the older generation on a regular basis, but our church is very young in general. Very few gray heads!

8:35 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Tami said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have been able to really enjoy my grandparents and to sit and glean hours of wisdom from them. This is a priceless treasure. They will not always be here, but the lessons I have learned through their experiences will last a lifetime and beyond.

As an aside, your post is beautifully written. You have a gift for writing.

7:50 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Becky Miller said...

Great post. I love spending time with my husband's great grandmother! She tells us all the family "dirt." : )

10:00 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Samantha said...

Hi Erin,
We've only been home for about a day, and I'm already blogging...I need help lol :)

I am blessed enough to still have my Grandparents-who have been married for 65 years! Everytime we visit them I try to squeeze as much knowledge out of them as possible (it's amazing what a lifetime can teach you). They have been through so much; my Grandpa fought in WWII, the lose of a child, and the ups and downs of marriage, and raising 4 children. This post is a great reminder of the importance of our elders(even those who aren't our grandparents).

11:04 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Erin said...

Thanks for all the great comments!

Susan- Thanks for sharing your link! I'll have to come over and read it:o)

Becky- that's wonderful that you still have your husband's great-grandmother! You have an opportunity for a five-generation photograph when the baby is born, right? (My mom keeps telling me to hurry up, because she wants to get one of our family;o)

Welcome back, Samantha!!!:o)

10:19 AM, April 06, 2006  
Blogger Mrs. Wilt said...


Terrific post! I had the pleasure of knowing 2 of my great-grandparents, and my boys have 5 great-grandparents living! What a blessing- we should never take our heritage for granted. :o)

9:44 AM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger Kimi Harris said...

Thank you for posting on this much needed topic!

10:22 PM, April 11, 2006  

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