The Gift of Our Elders

At 66 years of age I am no spring chicken! But I have a father who is 94 and still going strong. Amazing man who last night, over our candle-lit, mid-week dinner conversation, exclaimed that what his generation accomplished in the 1940s was amazing.  “I wish we had a vision like that again.”

Dad is a World War II veteran, B-29 bomber pilot and retired Air Force career officer.  My sisters and I tromped around America for 20 years from military base to military base.  Circumstances led to my move to Pensacola, Florida in 2008 to live near Dad, to help when needed, and to be closer to my own son and daughter who live in the Southeast now.  Sometimes I get caught up in the cares of the day and it is not until the next morning (I am a veteran early riser) when my thoughts are clearer, that I realize the gems of wisdom that roll forth from Dad as he looks back on nearly 100 years of life!  Think of that…nearly a century of personal experience.

Two things he shared last night as we discussed current seemingly intractable problems in America:  fossil-fuel cars, and the Congressional stale-mate over, well, everything it seems.  We simply can’t agree on one important step for millions of Americans.  In the middle of that discussion he remarked that during WWII there was a national vision of where we were going and that together we would accomplish something for the whole world.  That the world of nations looked to us to make things right, to defeat a terrible wave of human to human violence.  And we did.

The second thing Dad said, almost in passing, was that “you just can’t change American’s love affair with their cars.”  He described riding in a big, comfortable Buick that same day with his medical service to his doctor.  ” I remember the model T Ford.  When everyone could afford to get one… it was our greatest joy.”  He grew up on a small farm in eastern Tennessee and recalled trips my aunts and uncles and his family made to Asheville, NC (60 miles on a narrow two-lane, through hair pin mountain roads). Imagine going from horses to a gas-powered vehicle – the transforming impact of that one invention.  The model T opened up so many possibilities and connected people, places, and thus exchange of ideas and goods and services.

This morning as I was writing in my journal, a more than 50 year habit, I realized two key things that might offer us “younger” folks some direction:  1) a national vision everyone subscribes to; 2) an invention that changes the whole paradigm of our lives.  Perhaps if we can discern what these two factors might be in 2012, we could reinvent ourselves even as my father’s generation did so many years ago.

What dream are we chasing as a nation?  What does the world look to us to do?  What could transform our daily lives and rocket us into the next new big vision for America?

[Dad described the city of Chicago’s fleet of hydrogen cars.}

8 thoughts on “The Gift of Our Elders

  1. Larry Chamblin

    This is a beautiful post, one that resonates with me as I am also a military junior who is keenly aware of the differences between my father’s and mother’s time and our own. They met their challenges squarely, while it seems to me we are denying and avoiding our challenges. Susan, I hope in future posts you will answer your own questions.

    1. I am reading Frances Moore Lappe’s Ecomind – the answer to our questions I believe. What is holding us back is our frame of reference, our collective perception of ourselves and the state of the world. Her point is that unless we get out of the “lack of” and “humans are greedy and competitive” beliefs – nothing will change. I will put up more about it later this week. Thanks for the post! And Merry Christmas!!!

  2. Tom Williams

    Mom,
    Your always good at taking Granddad Feathers perspective on life and transforming it into questions for our newer generations to answer, such as Y and Millennium. Yes, I will do my part now but I can only imagine what the younger generations will have to bare in the future as it relates to our ever polluted environment and the political tensions with other countries that always keep us at the brink of war.
    Remember the phrase “tragedy of the commons”? Granddad understands this so well at his age and that is truly a rarity in his generation. A very wise and thoughtful man that I will miss seeing this Christmas. Look forward to more of your posts!
    Love
    Son

  3. Tommy, thanks so much for this thoughtful comment. And…I think the future generations will have exactly what we are creating for them now with our actions and decisions. It’s true that there is much to be worried about. But I see solutions everywhere if only the majority of people could see the potential. I think of how you and Amy recycle, how you bought high energy-efficient appliances, your love of animals and the environment – you are doing much now that will create a good future. I am so proud of you and our family. I just bought a pair of American Made jeans, following Heather’s example. So us older folks can learn from younger folks.

    Merry Christmas! I’ll be thinking of you on Christmas Day! Love, Mom

  4. Mikaela

    Susan, Your insights are always so wonderful and touch something deep inside us all. And how fortunate you are to have your dad still with you to point out cultural benchmarks for us “young-uns.”

    I remember my grandmother’s observations the day American astronauts landed on the moon back in 1969. I was in my mid-20s at the time, and she was in her mid-70s. As a girl growing up in the South, she traveled to town by horse and buggy, and for long distances she and her family went by train. In her lifetime she experienced the unveiling of automobiles, trolley cars, buses, airplanes, rocket ships … pretty amazing to witness such transformations in one lifetime. On “Moon Landing Day” she was sitting next to me on the sofa, her head bent over an intricate piece of embroidery she was stitching. The television was on, reporting this astounding moment in history and she was so engrossed in her needle and thread that she seemed not to care about the TV or the moon at all. Finally, I nudged her elbow and said, “Nana, look! We’ve landed on the moon!” Her arthritic fingers paused and she glanced up, staring at the TV coverage for a long moment. Furrowing her brow and shaking her head gently, she finally said, “My, my, what will they think of next?” and went back to her sewing. I will always remember that moment with laughter and wonder.

    Her question is as important for us today as it was nearly 50 years ago: What will we think of next? I hope our dreams and visions bring to fruition a new way of living, in harmony with our Earth and with each other. Merry Christmas, Susan, to you and your dad, and whole family!

    ~ Mikaela Quinn

  5. That is a wonderful story, Mikaela. Our elders do put things in perspective! I share your deep wish. You and Jim has done more than any two people I know through the New Southwest magazine, and the Tucson GREEN Times. Rest and relax before the new year begins!

  6. Susan,

    I am just catching up on your blog entries. This most definitely touches me. Our fathers, both veterans of World War II, and I believe both endowed with so much wisdom, courage and experience, would have made great friends. My father, my hero, passed away on November 25, 2000. He would have been 92 on November 29 this past year. In these days of rushing and information overload, we must remember to reflect, to imagine, to be open, to connect, and to act mindfully.

    Elaine

  7. What will our generation be remembered for? I do not believe that we are a selfish generation as so often put upon us. I believe we were once dreamers who stood for justice and clean air and water, and believed in the right of women over their own bodies…we lost our way perhaps when the 80s ushered in the big global economic push…Vietnam made us worry about out ability to choose the right path. But, we are still the dreamers and if we can become the doers of our Dads’ generation, that combination might leave the next cohort of Americans something solid and even to stand upon. Thanks for this wonderful reflection about your Father. You have the perspective of looking back which I lack, fortunately, for now….

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