I was sixteen years old in the 1980s, I am in my fifties now. Fifty looked so far away when I was sixteen. But then I was sixteen when it was fashionable to be stupid. (I was fashionable.) Fifty, back then, was so old. But the older I get, ironically, the less old that seems.
There is a lot of factors that go into that. I am not trying to analyze them here, but time, maturity, crisis, comfort, and other things all make this happen.
It turns out, I just learned last week, the United States suffered a deadly outbreak of the Spanish Flu in 1918, a disease that wiped out thousands in major cities across the country. It turns out the cities with foresight enough to cancel big public celebrations (to reduce the crowds) managed a lot better than those who ignored such precautions.
Wow! This is not our first time to learn these life lessons!
No one who survived that and learned those lessons are alive today. In fact, my grandparents were born just after that, and so they had no personal memory of that epidemic. But my grandparents all lived through the Great Depression and the second world war. They spent sixteen enduring hardships of societal proportions and then spent their fifties shaking their heads at me when I was young.
Did I learn any of the wisdom they tried to preserve for me? Today feels like a pop quiz I did not study for.
Very, precious few of my grandparents’ generation are left alive among us today, and sadly you would do them a disservice to run to their bedside or breakfast nook to ask for a refresher on the kinds of wisdom they have to offer. Most of us, if you are like me, remember that they did talk; they did tell us, but their words in my brain jumble around like Charlie Brown’s teacher. But if I could sit with Grandpa, Grandma, with Mammaw and Pappaw for a cup of coffee this morning, surely I would take much comfort in their words.
Well, their kids, to a large degree, are still with us. They are the old ones now, but they also got the first run of all those lectures and speeches we might take comfort in today. They spent most of their lives hearing the stories. (Of course plenty of them resisted listening too, but perhaps some of it got through?)
I remember when I was young – very young – the TV show with John-Boy and The Waltons. I thought it was the most boring thing on TV, and I saw an episode a few years ago and have yet to change my mind. But if you are my age or older, you know what it means to say, “Good night, John-Boy.” I realize now how that program was a comfort to the old ones watching TV when I was a kid. A celebration of their youth and memories of good times – except they were hard times.
Ironic, I know.
This is that mystical part of actually being in my fifties which makes it seem not as old to me now as it did when I was sixteen. I can see now that my grandparents were so young then. They were getting their wisdom from people who had enjoyed the Roaring Twenties only to see it all come crashing down. Those must have been some deeply sad and disturbed people. I wonder if they spoke, in my grandparents ears, like Charlie Brown’s teacher does in mine.
Why am I writing this?
I saw a picture going viral yesterday. A photo taken by a local nurse who also is a photographer. She chose to capture the image in black-n-white, and even though it is so thoroughly contemporary, it calls up the ghosts of yesteryear too.
Here, have a look:
Suddenly the life I live today, and so many of the concerns, anxieties, and fears yapping at my heals just now are captured in this picture which could almost jump off the page of an old newspaper or a history book, and could very well wind up in future history books! Perhaps in the future, a professor will lecture on our times today and show this picture to a class of young people who only hear Charlie Brown’s teacher droning on and on and on.
For me, though, I can almost hear the teacher’s voice clearing up in my ears. I see the wisdom of those who brought me into this life, and I can almost feel the comfort they provided when I thought they knew it all, which is ironic because at the time I thought I did. But I was in community with the old ones, and that was everything!
In this post, I am hoping for your feedback. Let me be in community with you and with the old ones you remember too. Let us share what we can of their wisdom, and be a resource to one another.
What stories, what jokes and good humor, what proverbs and tidbits of wisdom, can you remember being passed down to you? Share a bit of that with us here today. Maybe I can attract a few readers who can help the teacher’s voice move from mumbles and jumbles (I should have been listening and attending to more carefully) to clear words of wisdom and comfort. And maybe some of my readers here (your readers too, should you make offerings) can also find wisdom and comfort as we dig into those old experiences of the ones who shaped us.
(Total recall and perfect accuracy not required.)
I will offer some too, in the comments below.