In a way I can relate to General Patton–the American military hero who crashed through the German defences and left Hitler on his knees in Berlin.Well, I can’t relate to that first part. If you have ever seen the movie Patton, there is a part where he is looking out over a plain of ancient ruins in Southern Italy.
“I was here!” he proclaims, He then begins reciting a poem about himself as Napoleon’s General. I do not believe in reincarnation, as he did, but I do feel as if I belong in another time, another era.
Someone asked me the other day: “Could you imagine growing up without internet or cellphones?” I replied something like, “It sure would make life simpler” (Ironic but true).
I will be blunt–for all the modern world’s technological advances, we have fallen into the Stone Ages of inter-personal communication. It is easy for me to point this out because “I was here”. I did live in another era, another time. Yet I am only 20, how is that?
Technologically speaking, third-world countries have always been a step behind America. The process is quickly speeding up, of course, but when I was growing up in the late 90’s, my dad once told me that Bolivia, my home country, was some 50 years behind America.
So how has this impacted me?
I did two uncommon things this past week, for my age.
I attended a men’s retreat and was the youngest camper there. Most of the men averaged 50 or so.
A couple of nights later I spent the day with my grandpa and then he invited me to an accordion concert. I drove my grandpa’s ex-police car where he told me to go, and passed over bridges and several highways before we got to this concert. We were going to West Seattle, a place I didn’t even know existed.
Getting out of the car, as a white flurry started to flow down, I saw the sign that read “Senior Center”. We went into the building and I smiled at the people I saw. When they saw me they immediately smiled, but then they looked at my hair (a semi-afro) and their smile would turn fake as they turned away.
I looked around at the group of about 50 or so senior citizens and I was by far the youngest person there. Even though I was the oddity, the unbelonging stranger, my smile still stayed. I wasn’t uncomfortable. It is an interesting age–I will be their age someday, I will be in a dwindling crowd like theirs someday.
These are the people with bottle-cap glasses that strain to see the signs on the freeway as they putter down the road at 30 miles an hour in their smoking Lincoln “Boat” Towncar.
These are the same people with the snow-white hair that have those foot-long comb-overs (no, they don’t sell them at Subway) that they constantly keep patting down. These people wear a suit and tie to the church in the middle of winter and eat meatloaf day in and day out.
The grandma’s sit and chatter, asking “What?” every few seconds and then answering back on a totally different subject. Their husbands sit and nod as their hearing-aides blare at full-strength, yet they still can’t hear a word. So they simply nod and smile and nod some more until they nod themselves to sleep.
What a beautiful crowd of great and loving people. In this there is no irony or humor, it is true. What would the world be without such people? Better said, look at what has happened to our “modern” culture now that we have little time to care for the older generation.
We treat them like children when we are the children. We think ourselves wise and experienced, when they have so much more to give.
You see, I was born in another era, another age, in another culture. A culture that loves old people and respects them above most citizens. I may look twenty but I don’t understand others my age–in this culture. It is sort of like inviting Shakespeare to a rock concert or bringing Rockwell to an abstract art show.
I will not say I fit in with these older people on every level either, not at all. The diapers in the bathroom weren’t for me and I could not enjoy the polkas as much as them, not the bitter and burnt coffee.
Yet then a man and his father played a cello and an accordion together, almost in a jazz style. And a soft-fingered man with his melodic accordion and a radiating smile played several the hymn-like tunes that made me tear up like the Italian Non Dimenticar and old Irish hymn Jesus! What A Friend. To that I could relate.
How many grandfathers and mothers are sitting somewhere, rotting-away, withing they would die, in their tiny rooms at a nursing facility. And I’m not referring to those that have loving families and those that are there of free-will or for their own good. I’m talking of the forgotten ones, the lonely grandparents who have not been visited in weeks and months. Maybe it is their fault, maybe they never took the time to love their children. But everyone deserves a second chance.
I tell you now, if you have a parent or grandparent in old-age–cherish them while you still have them. Learn from them and be taught and admonished by them. If you are a parent, love your children so they may love you in old age–make them your priority, and steer clear from loving money or things that rot and disappear.
It is true, man may die and rot as well, yet he is going to his eternal home, for people last forever. Our ancestors knew that–why have we forgotten?
And this message is for you–you that are young and vibrant, as I am still. Cherish those who cherish you. I have had hundreds of friends already, through my numerous travels, yet very few ever stay and love you when the “gettin’ is” not so good. Every single older person will tell you this.
Close your eyes and imagine this:
You walk into a bright room where an old man is lying, dying. You know he only has a few more minutes of life left so you go in to see him.
He takes your hand and squeezes it. He will not tell you of the honors he had received in live, not the amount of money he made. He simply looks at you, smiles, and thanks you for being with him.