One feels increasingly that to get things to go on just as well without one is much to be desired. . . each generation must find out its own best way of doing things unhampered by trying to keep to the conditions of the generation that went before. 1918 September 7
What is it about birthdays with zeros? They are no different from any previous birthday – just one year older but. . . the launch into a new decade, well, that is significant. I remember the thrill of turning “10” with its two digits! Twenty was special – feeling very adult even if not yet technically such. Thirty and forty I hardly recall being so busy with living. I was relieved that fifty didn’t seem so different from the previous decade. Sixty gave me pause, but not for long, just keeping up with life. But seventy?
Age, they say, is a matter of the mind. “You are only as old as you think you are” or, as Mark Twain quips: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” A host of euphemisms abound to diminish the realities of the inevitable: aging.
There is nothing like support for any transition and daughter Kimberly came to Mt. Dora to ease me into this new decade armed with gifts, a quartet of collages composed of quotes and pictures and greetings from family members (revealing their unique personalities along with their loving affirmations ) and, most of all, her dear loving presence.
I watch this creature of a younger generation mother and maneuver across the miles: emailing directives to teachers (“Brennan will be picked up by. . .”); texting her husband (“Don’t forget. . .”); even ordering “on-line” my very individualized gift (How else could she have found The Perfect Gift – a pendant nest with 3 robin eggs – my muse for parenting?!) She seems so competent in so many ways beyond my expertise, juggling her various roles with skill and grace.
Yet I wonder about the world in which our adult children raise their children. I think of the challenges in a society, in seeming agreement against some of our most cherished values. How will they maintain a Christian home and life-style amidst the voices and pressures of this hostile culture? How will they assure an atmosphere of shelter and security for their young?
They are navigating waters for which we, their parents, find daunting. They, children of their times, are infinitely better equipped than we schooled in a different generation. Come to think of it, I remember my parents worrying about our busy, fragmented lives – so different from theirs (or at least in memory).
This was what Lilias was deliberating, in essence, when she penned these words in her diary: “Each generation must find out its own best way of doing things unhampered by trying to keep to the conditions of the generation that went before.” Her life, however, indicated otherwise: organizing return trips to the Southlands after the war years; instigating space in the native quarters of their home in El Biar for vacationing Arab families; maintaining an ever-growing band of workers over the face of Algeria. But the death of her longtime colleague, Blanche Haworth, raised questions about the years ahead – the inevitable future without the leadership of the “senior” workers. Five more years would find Lilias, still vital in mind and vision, but limited to the confines of the four walls of her bedroom.
Though Lilias was referring specifically to the challenges of ministry, her insight can be applied more broadly. Each generation does face problems unique to their era but for which they are, likewise, uniquely equipped. It is their challenge to find new ways to meet them without compromising their essential core values.
It is the challenge of those who have gone before them to stand back and bow to the enthusiasm and expertise of the younger. To support them when and where we can. And to advise only when (and if!) asked. Our role becomes increasingly to cheer not rule. (I remember with gratitude the people who came alongside us in our early not always wise attempts to lead.)
It is, in fact, the duty of each generation to embrace fully each season of our changing lives. Each season will require a new set of skills and strengths. Each season will bring unique joys – and challenges.
So, what about this new decade? I have no more guarantees than anyone else about what the future holds. But I do know that I have greater leisure to pursue my passions. . . to invest in relationships. . . to open myself to new ideas and projects (maybe this is the decade I will learn to bake a souffle?). . . to concentrate on being rather than doing. . .
Acceptance is at the heart of each life stage. To accept is to say “yes” to life in its entirety – whatever that might be or bring: limitations along with bounty. Paul Tournier, in his book Learn to Grow Old, writes: “The free and convinced consent that life demands of the old is not some exceptional burden that is laid on them alone – it is a universal law. A single ‘Yes!’ goes through the whole of life. It is successively ‘Yes!’ to childhood, to youth, to adult life, to old age, and finally ‘Yes!’ to death. It is easier to turn over a page of life when we have filled it right up.”
Each season of life has its own meaning. What concerns each of us, young and old. is to seek the will of God for today. In that sense, the meaning of life, from beginning to end is always the same: to allow ourselves to be led by God.
So I greet this new decade with an openness for what it will bring, echoing the words of Moses: “Now choose life, so that you and your children might live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him.”
Painting: Pocket Sketchbook (undated)