Our Marvelous Elders
Age is such a sensitive subject in America that it was even difficult to name this article. Which title should be used to reference the group of people who we deem respectfully older. There are euphemisms like “senior citizen” that look good on paper but have such a mixed connotation, the people who would qualify to wear the title would just as soon dismiss it. There are medical terms, like ‘geriatric’ that are seemingly even more offensive and yet we still use them. Yet and still there are terms we do not often hear like the one we have decided to use here. Elder, denotes a person of greater age, much like the others but it also implies wisdom and regality. There is such a slight difference though between the application of ‘elderly’ that we dare not use it.
One of the reasons referring to our older generations has become so difficult is because we haven’t quite figured out how to treat them. As young Americans, and especially those that have been raised with an 80’s sensibility will find it to be a complex situation. We weight our capitalist inclinations that claim survival of the fittest, against the clear moral disparity we feel for basic human decency and care. Even further, the youth has , and presumably will always struggle with bridging the age gap from a cultural standpoint. The challenge is to find relevant engagement points between our elders and ourselves that remind of what is actually true. None of us are actually so different, and we are all in this (life) together.
Finding these relevant touch points shouldn’t be all to difficult as you look around, so much of the world we value has been created by, and for the generations of the past. So many of us enjoy vintage clothing, classic cars, old movies, music, and aged wines and whiskeys as our favorite things to experience. If we adapt elements of our past generations and bypass the people who actually created these things are we nothing more than a generation of cultural approriators?
When we think of sustainable living should we not consider tapping into one of our most precious resources, namely the people who witnessed and contributed the creation of the world we inhabit today? It seems that for the most part as a generation we love to snap photos of old people dancing and overlay modern music, and chuckle at the irony. We make comments in passing about the technological ineptness of many of our grandparents as the digital age continues to blitz upon them while we rely on medical alert systems in Canada to take care of them in emergencies. All the while failing to acknowledge that we we are already no longer newest kids on the generational block.
As Gen-Y creeps through young adult hood there is a generation behind us, already even more tech saavy than we were. Though we proudly claim to be the last generation to truly come of age without the internet as a massive influence on our teen years it is too easy for us to start sounding like “old people”. Facebook has begun to wane as Instagram and Snapchat have become the culturally dominant social platforms and along with the new generation of social media, there will be its new generation of users.
The mention of our aging is only to provide context for the future, but it is besides the point. The fact of the matter is that today, there are still living survivors, of the Holocaust, the sinking of the Titanic, and even the great depression. Some of our great grandparents were alive for the invention of the automobile. Now we live in a world in which transportation without the automobile is almost un fathomable. It is not as simple as remembering the days when you could get a candy bar for a penny. There are important social lessons that can be gleamed as well.
How revealing it could be to strike up a conversation with a centenarian about what it must have been like to come of age when so many things converted to manual to mechanical and what insight we could capture that pertain to the years ahead of us. One of the most important questions in post industrial society was whether machines would replace humans in the work force. And yet we are dealing with that very same question again today.
On the civil front, we have our grandparents whom, many of age took part in the civil rights movements of the 1950’s and 60’s and the women’s liberation movements of the 1970’s. These are people who have been of voting age for 40 or 50 years. Just imagine what it has been like to see the fall of the Berlin wall and the rise of China’s economy. There certainly has to be some lessons in their first hand account of what the human effect of these socio-political changes could be.
Still this is not all, we should not simply, harvest information from out elders. We should build relationships with them, along with their knowledge of rich global and national history they have so much to tell us about life in general. They have live more life than we could imagine and are filled with amazing stories, if only we would take the time to hear them. It is so easy to be caught up in what is cool and hip and now. But it strikes me as odd that TV shows an movies that cover recent decades in history seem to always do well, and yet we rarely take the time to hear those stories from the people who lived them.
The next time you pick up a vintage hat or jacket that you are so proud to own. Perhaps take a moment to share it with a person whom might have during the generation it was created. If you are interested in meeting or help our elders and just can’t seem to find one..
Contact Camila Greenberg with firstname.lastname@example.org, she has put together a volunteer organization that helps at senior living homes around the Los Angeles area and is always looking for new participants.
And for Pete’s sake, call your grandparents!