GENERATION GAPS …

She’s my last remaining connection to the “Greatest Generation” and she lays dying in a hospital bed. She can barely hear me and doesn’t really respond when I talk to her. So, whatever conversations I was ever going to have with her …have been had.

My grandmother won’t survive the month. She’s 92. And once she’s gone, I won’t know anyone left who lived through the depression or World War II. People who lived through WWII never called it that. When you’re in the middle of something you don’t call it what pointy-headed history buffs label it in books, years later. My grandparents always just called it, “the war.” My son will never hear someone talk about it like that. He’ll never have a meaningful conversation with anyone who remembers it first hand. They’re all about gone.

As I watch my grandmother slip away, I think a lot about her generation. I’ve been binge watching every made-for-TV-mini-series and documentary I can find, lately. I’m missing something about the stability of having those folks around. I’m craving something about them I can’t quite put my finger on.

My mother and father’s generation went to the moon and invented rock and roll. And I love their generation for a lot of things, too. They soared higher, raced faster and reached farther than any generation before them. But let’s be honest …they can be a little unstable at times. And they are prone to wild swings in belief. They developed plastic – wrapped everything in it – then told us to stop using it or we’d kill the planet. They got free love …we got AIDS. They invented the credit card …and left us a pile of debt.

I suppose with great accomplishment comes a downside.

Our generation didn’t win a great war OR go to the moon. No, we took the most advanced technological achievements mankind has ever seen and used them to argue about politics, post cat videos, and send pictures of our penises to people. I’ve been wondering where it all went wrong. When did the adults leave the room?

Don’t get me wrong. I have some mixed feelings about the Greatest Generation. If you think about it globally, only about half of them were really great. The other half actually STARTED World War II. You wouldn’t really put old Japanese or German people in the same group as the American, British and French people we call “the greatest.” And that drags our politically correct, “safe-space” notions to the edge of our comfort zone. We don’t like the idea of “enemies” any more. But guess what? That was reality in the 1940s.

I’ve been examining what made that generation “great.” Was it it their toughness? Their ability to endure hardship? Their absolute refusal to give up? Their unmatched bravery? Honestly, I don’t believe it was any of those things. I know Iraq war vets who are as brave as anyone this country has ever produced. I sang at a soldier’s homecoming once, who had volunteered for NINE (that’s 9) tours in Iraq. On his ninth tour, both his legs got blown off by an IED. And when they found him he was still dragging himself toward his men to help them …without legs. That’s as brave and as tough as anything I’ve ever heard about, in any war, anywhere.

Lots of people have endured horrible things. But generationally, what was it that made these people special?

I was watching a documentary on WWII and something jumped out at me. In one of the South Pacific sea battles, there were over two hundred (200) American war ships engaged …in one single battle. I sat up in my chair and realized THAT was the answer. It was right there.

These days you wouldn’t be able to get two hundred PEOPLE to agree on anything, much less two hundred WAR SHIPS full of people. And yet there they were, in ONE battle, in ONE theater of war, among thousands of other battles, being fought in concert and striving toward the same goal. ONE voice. ONE purpose. ONE focus. That’s spectacular.

When my grandmother was born, women had only been allowed to vote for 5 years. We were 40 years away from the civil rights movement. Homosexuality was still considered (by the medical profession) to be a mental disorder. Slavery had only been abolished for 62 years. No one had yet flown from New York to Paris. And the possession of wine was illegal.

Yet the people of that time rose up in unison to defend an unfulfilled idea and a flawed republic. Why? Why would a Tuskegee airman go wheels up at sun up for a country that wouldn’t allow him to eat at the same lunch counter as his white counterpart? Why would a Navaho wind talker share his ancient secret with a nation that had defaulted on every treaty it had ever signed with his ancestors? How could a Japanese American solider become “gung ho” for a president who was imprisoning his relatives in an interment camp? How did these disparate, victimized groups get beyond their own grievances long enough to fight alongside their oppressors? Somehow, these people knew something about the promise of America that we seem to have forgotten.

Maybe they didn’t see America as an injustice that was DONE to them. Maybe they saw it, rather, as an idea they could affect by participation. Somehow, they ALL knew they were on the side of the good guys …even if the good guys were still pretty messed up.

To me, THAT’S the greatness of the greatest generation. Their ability to see the greater good and their willingness to fight for it.

There are a lot of things I love about now. I love that individuals are more free to be themselves than ever before. I love that everyone has a voice and a way to express it. But I do miss the idea of common experience and shared belief. Today, we can’t even agree that our president is duly elected. We can’t agree on common facts. We don’t even know if the news being read to us is true or made up. In that kind of environment, could we defeat a modern-day Hitler? We would first have to agree that WE aren’t him. Then we’d have to agree that he must actually be defeated. Then, we’d ALL have to take some part – some responsibility – in destroying him. I fear public sentiment would turn against the struggle and moral equivalence would crowd out reason before the job could get done. Maybe even before it could get underway.

When my grandmother dies, a lot of memories and ideas and beliefs and ways of doing things will die with her. And maybe some of them should. But I’m gonna miss people who got dressed up for church. I’m gonna miss people who didn’t feel the need to constantly tell and show the world every single thing they were thinking or feeling …or eating. I miss the idea of lifetime commitment. I miss dignity. I miss grace. I miss humility. I miss understatement. I even (in a weird way) miss consequences. I love undo buttons. But life sure got taken a lot more seriously before they were there.

My grandmother has travelled a long, wonderful journey. And while I will grieve her passing, I know it’s time. She has lived well and she will die well, surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, probably in her sleep …peacefully.

I will miss her. But I think I will miss her generation, and the example they set, just as much.

R

18 thoughts on “GENERATION GAPS …

  1. This is so profound and heart touching and at the same time well constructed thoughtful write up 🙂 I hope peace for you and your family 🙂 May your granny sleep a peaceful sleep 🙂

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  2. My Grandmother gone many years now was born in 1897. She lived to be 97 years old. She was mostly blind from a young age, had only minimal hearing in one ear. She grew up and raised her children in Camden NJ, which was an entirely different place than it is today. She was tough. I recall when she was in her 80’s carrying a basket of laundry down the steps backwards in those Old Lady shoes she wore. Those leather ones with the solid block for a heal that lasted decades. She lost her balance and fell backwards down half a flight and broke her hip. She spent a brief time in the hospital and did very minor physical therapy. And within a month was back to doing her routine. Doing wash, making lunch and dinner. Cooking in that old cast iron stew pot that she had forever. She was tough. I don’t mean in personality, but a toughness you develop from working hard all your life. She had her opinions on the world, even though she never traveled, and was ready to put you to work doing something if you were just being a lazabout watching TV. She was a part of a generation that spanned a couple of generations. People that worked multiple jobs just so they could put food on the table for their kids. I don’t know what she would say about how things are today. But I’m sure it would make a great many people from teens to 40’s blush in embarrassment.

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  3. Very true words! Thank you. They were tough and had a stick-to-it-ness that we just don’t see today. The sad part is the generation that needs to hear from them is the millennial generation. They did what had to be done and didn’t cry about everything that went wrong in their world. I miss my grandparents incredibly, they made me feel like I could do whatever I set my mind to!

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  4. A beautiful post and tribute to your grandmother. I recently lost my own mother. She was 99, born in 1917. Not only did I lose my mother, but the last link in our family to that world of long ago. I learned so much from her and her parents as well. The values they taught me are deeply ingrained. I’m thankful my children (who are millennials) also had the chance to learn from her and I’m hoping they will pass those values down to their own children.
    Sending prayers for you and you’re family during this difficult time. ❤️

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  5. I have a great fixation on the “Greatest Generation” myself. I’ve wrestled with the question of why that label is so appropriate for them. Throughout the history of our nation every generation has been willing to leave home and family to pick up arms without regard for their own lives. There has been no monopoly on bravery. When you said “THAT’S the greatness of the greatest generation. Their ability to see the greater good and their willingness to fight for it.” that clicked for me!

    In some ways their dreams seemed small, but were bigger. The Great Depression touched their lives in such a way that they ushered in the middle class. Many came home from the way and bought one of those little homes, in a row of houses in a suburb somewhere, worked in some factory, raised a family and perhaps sat on the porch at the end of a long day and gazed up at the moon. Their kids grew up having it better than they did, part of their parents dreams, and those kids looked at that same moon and thought “I want to go there someday”.

    I work with a very wealthy man, he is 85, I asked him once about his success. He replied, “I never set out to be rich, I just didn’t want to be poor.”

    Perhaps what was greatest about the Greatest Generation was that they lived in the “now”, chipping away at changing the “past”, yet they changed the future for generations to come. While it seems today, we all live in tomorrow, consumed with tomorrow, trying to change the future.

    The greater good is always present, it’s always NOW.

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  6. What a fantastic written piece. Thank you so much for that.

    I have fond memories of going to a yearly church gathering to remember the fallen in the war. Even though I did not live back then, there is something about honoring those that did, and all they went through.

    I wish the best for you and your family.

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  7. Wonderful article and brought forth many memories of the stories my parents told and lived. They lived through the depression and my Dad served in WWII. I had the benefit of their experiences and learned to live simply but dream big! We were taught to be tough, compassionate, patriotic and fight for what we believed in for ourselves and others. Live life joyfully and laugh! I’ve been fortunate to pass those traits to my children ,who are in their 20’s, and…. in that small way…. the “greatest generation’s” legacy lives on!

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  8. Beautifully written and brilliantly spot-on, as always. Thank you for taking the time to write (and share) these thoughts that resonate so deeply in their simple truisms.

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  9. Great post, Regie! My grandparents are both 92. My grandfather is a Marine WWII Vet, he takes cares of my grandmother who has dementia. Growing up I thought they both hung the moon, she cooked, sewed, sang at church like a pro, anything life threw her she did it and did it with grace, love and dignity. Grandpa was strong, taught me things he felt I should know even at a young age, he would take me for bike rides, ice skating, and shared stories of his days as a Marine when I got older. I feel like you, they are the greatest generation. I cried reading your post because I feel your love and what will be your loss for your grandmother. As I prepare myself for that day when I too have to let go. My only comfort is knowing that when it’s all said and done and we see each other again I’ll be seeing the grandparents I remember as a kid, the active and healthy ones! And so will you! (Sorry for the long comment, this one hit me directly in the heart!)

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  10. Hey Regie….Another great post written only as you can write it….I pray comfort for your family and for your Grandmother……. On the topic of the greatest generation and the “why” I wanted to share with you something I heard from Chuck Swindoll years ago because I think there’s a spiritual component to it as well. He said that throughout history, the average age of the world’s great civilizations is about 200 years each. It’s a revolving door and it rotates on what he calls the “axis of depravity. ” Each civilization in which he is referring has gone something like this……….. From bondage to Spiritual faith, from Spiritual faith to great courage, from great courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to leisure, leisure to selfishness, selfishness to complacency, complacency to apathy, apathy to dependence, dependence to weakness, weakness back to bondage…….. I hope that is not true for our country but I think we can all see signs that it could be or is headed that way; which if we are aware, hopefully we can heed the warnings and lessons from history (and God) and return as a nation to faith (and courage). ….. “Some trust in chariots and horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God…….Psalm 20:7………….

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  11. My dad is 91 this year. He was in the Navy during WWII. He was a bombardier in the Pacific. He lied to the recruiting office to enlist when he was 17. I take a digital recorder when I visit to record some of his stories about the war, his life as a lawyer and as a judge. He is a remarkable man who was never quite convinced of how remarkable he was/is. He is in great health although plagued with Parkinson’s. He still has a great sense of humor. We are leaving tomorrow to visit him for the 4th.

    I’m sorry, Reggie, that you are losing your grandma.

    The retirement communities are full of seniors who would love to talk to someone. I think rent-a-grandparent is a good idea.

    As usual, your insight and perception are well stated and thought provoking!

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