We live in an interesting time. I am somewhere in the mid-point of what would be an average life expectancy now in 2016. When I was young I flocked to old people and gleaned every ounce of knowledge I could from their wise perspectives. I worked with them every chance I could, especially the country folk type, both men and ladies and usually one-on-one. At that time the elder country folk did not have much to do with Television and they always seemed to embrace the role of story teller. I was 8 years old in 1980 and reveling in the wisdom of the elders. When those elders passed on it was often not their children with their wisdom, but people like me who truly respected their perceptions.
I did anything I could in those days to be with the older folk. When I was exactly 8 years old, I rose daily before 6:00 to catch my place on the hitch of Merlin Olson’s tractor when he passed by the house we rented from him. My father was an airline pilot and my mother a book-keeper. Their world was television and entertainment and for a period so was mine until at age 18 when I followed the advice of a bumper sticker—Kill the TV—and never watched television again.
In the days of my youth, I did everything with the elders when I didn’t have to be in school like letting the ditch water into the fields and metering the flow row by row with Mr. Merlin—then in his late 70’s. There was old Roma Brown, who lived on the farm that her father had set up for her when he was kicked off of his second successful and bountiful farm in the wake of industrial development. There was my own grandmother born in Idaho to sheep herders before her family was called back to Germany to take over the Baron-ship of a large castle and estate at age 13. It was there that she married my French/Polish Grandfather who soon defied the critical speech norms to end up in Auschwitz concentration camp. There was my grandfather from the other side of the family who was a woodsman/farmer in the remote Apiary hills from birth and a land-holding farmer in the lower Valley by mid-life and until his passing.
Even after graduating from college I still sought out the elders of the old-ways. There was Newel Lolly, friend and neighbor to my grandfather, deep in the hills farming and building machinery from old parts in the high farmlands and forests above Keystone Canyon. We spent many days working together as he helped me to design, build, and adapt my farm machinery needs until at age 96 when I spent his last day with him talking on the farm together as he was “winded”. He passed away the next morning having never tasted modern medicine.
My grandfather went on the journey past this life one day while repairing the water-line that crossed the river near the cable car that he used to pull himself across the river to feed or check the cattle each day. It was upriver from the potato patch where he raised his biggest crop and hand carried sack after sack fording the river. At the time of his passing he was in the habit of raising a half acre garden for the “old folks” in the community that he prepared, helped them to plant, and weeded and maintained near the little shed where he would hang the odd deer that wondered in, the little shed where he cut his fresh breakfast steaks.
As I reach an age where knowledge is maturing and wisdom is incubating I have noticed a change in the levels above–and this may just be in the West. The elders do not often have the wise stories, deep perspectives, or the concern to pass on ways worth continuing. The young people find the most accessible and abundant flow of knowledge and life input from the internet and get mostly criticism and cynicism from the elders of today. There are always a few jewels of people, but it is not like before; the jewels are rare and unexpected and the disconnect between generations is for good reason. There is a jealousy coming as a legacy from those who should be our elders and our champions. At times it is vindictively competitive, and other times just complacent disregard, but it is not as it was nor as it should be.
I am in the very middle of my statistically expected lifespan and I have no strong elders, or very few who can top the wisdom I find in the adventures of my youth and the exploits with the elders in those years. I realized today that there is more wisdom, depth of perception, and hope to be drawn in retrospect from the idealistic conclusions of my 20-something clarity and idealism, outlined by the silvery clouds of living human wisdom of the time, than is anywhere to be had around me. The exception to that is the wisdom I find in those who similarly gleaned from the elders now long passed. I also find the important spores of wisdom in the youngers who are building upon the best of what our information systems supply in the reckoning of community that is not about generational divisions or rebellion, but founded on simple betterment and collaborative civilization.
Our habits and customs have changed and adapted to the places where pure wells of knowledge and wisdom can be found. For many of us, the internet and our young communities of idealism are all we have, and with that we are “making hay”. Making hay means deep foundations for civilization that do not exacerbate generational divisions or cut off the fountains of inter-generational collaboration that will fulfill today’s work tomorrow.
What I know most deeply is built on what I did and what I accomplished with the wisdom of my heroes back into my 20’s. I have decided to stop searching for new heroes and instead dig deeply into my coffers of knowledge and experience and fold and combine mine with the living hope in the rising communities of today. I have decided to change my approach to champion the youngers, to continue to do and lead out, and to tell the stories. The change is to emphasize the first and the last. I have decided to set aside individualistic ambition and selfishness and play for the team as a tribal warrior lost in the crowd.
Who I am is built on others, on communities, travel in and around most continents and in many diverse cultures, and on interwoven lives. I can be a repository of ideas and wisdom in community and a bolstering support for all who will today. I can step forward and flag the default path laid in our time of generational division, jealousy, unending competition, and cliquish drama between age groups. The world of tomorrow is not the world that we know and experience today. It is the one ahead in the path of our wisdom and our yet to be realized collaborative inter-generational accomplishment.