My grandpa died recently.
He was 92. He was born in 1928. He spent nearly his entire life on the same Central Montana ranch where he grew up.
He was quiet and kind and wise. He had strong opinions but he usually kept them to himself. He changed my life forever when he said, “When you’re perfect, then you can worry about everybody else.”
The changes he witnessed in his lifetime were mind blowing.
Grandpa grew up on a long, lonely dusty road listening to news of Bonnie and Clyde on the radio.
He used his guns to shoot food and beloved critically injured horses and protect his family from the possibility of marauding bank robbers and wild animals.
He was born into a time and place where people still used horse-drawn wagons to get around, and died in a world where people can sleep while their car drives.
The same guy who would climb on the back of a wild horse (and had an almost annual broken rib to prove it), would poke at a computer mouse like it was going to bite him.
Our older generations have so much to teach us.
We’re paying attention to the wrong things. We dismiss our elders as out-of-touch and naïve.
I don’t think grandpa would have argued that he didn’t understand most of our modern culture. But he understood plenty about the things that don’t change – the age-old questions that remain unresolved. He understood the human experience.
“If only I’d known then what I know now…”
Every generation tries to figure out the same things, experiences the same regrets, yearns for wisdom.
What are the things that grow and mature with age? Spirituality. A strong sense of self. An unconcern for what others think. Love.
In a thousand direct and indirect ways my grandpa advised me to stop focusing so much on external things, because they fade away.
Youth and beauty fade. Shiny new cars and houses get old. Clothes, shoes, and bodies wear out.
What you’re left with is just you and the people you love, so you’d better choose wisely, and you’d better learn to like yourself, because you’re the only You you’ve got. You’d better make the best of it.
Life is short. Get busy working on what matters. Stop wasting time messing with undertakings and relationships that don’t make you a better person.
My grandpa might not have known what on earth to think of a guy wearing a dress or the gender wage gap. He was born when most women still wore skirts, just eight years after women gained the right to vote.
But he could tell you in a soft, gentle voice how to love a partner for a lifetime, how to care for your family, how to love God, and how to offer help to a neighbor in need.
We ignore the things our older generations are best at.
We focus on all the ways they get in the way, the ways they hold us back. They drive too slow. They are afraid of change. They fear social and technological advancement.
You’d be scared too if you lived through six wars, polio, the Great Depression, the War of the Worlds, the Red Scare, Area 51, nuclear bomb shelters, the civil rights movement, the Cold War, the AIDS epidemic, September 11, and all of the other earth shattering things that happened in the last century.
But you’d also be brave.
Franklin Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”
My grandpa knew that there were a lot of things more important than fear. He stared down fear every day of his life. He knew a thing or two about courage.
We wish our older generations would get with the program, but maybe we need to stop pushing our own agenda on them.
They are very familiar with change.
When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008 my grandpa watched him on TV, nodded, and said, “He seems like a nice young man who wants to help make the world a better place.”
I’m not sure who he ended up voting for. But I can guarantee he wasn’t afraid of considering someone different from himself.
Maybe the scariest thing to the older generations isn’t change. Maybe what really scares them is the young folks’ out-of-whack priorities.
We spend millions of dollars on clothes, makeup, cars, cell phones, food that makes us fat, and gym memberships to make us skinny.
We race our kids to every activity and camp and experience but they don’t know how to change a tire or entertain themselves alone for fifteen minutes without a screen in front of them. And heaven forbid they be expected to do chores!
We watch screens all day and then take pills to help us sleep at night.
We worship celebrity and wealth as though these are the two key ingredients to happiness.
I am as guilty as anybody else.
I am right in the thick of it. We are as busy as every other American family. My husband and I are often tired and overwhelmed trying to balance all the activities, work, and the stuff of life. Screen time must be limited and enforcing chores is a torturous experience for all involved.
My grandpa’s death has brought my own life into sharp focus, and made me wonder… Maybe it isn’t older folks who are out of touch, but us?
Copyright © 2019 Sara Beth Wald