By now you know that family is one of my highest priorities, and when I say family, I am not only speaking of blood relations. My identity, my values, and my worldview are steeped in the love of a multi-generational heritage. I don’t know any other way. From my childhood I have always had three to four generations uniquely tied to my life – my grandparents, great grandparents, the elderly lady down the street, the old gentleman from the church, the children in my daycare center, my high school students, my children’s friends. People of all ages have been and are a part of my proverbial village. I find this to be a great advantage and a blessing because every generation has made my life richer with their unique perspective.
I’ll have to admit my family is a lot like a fruit cocktail tree. (That’s a specialty tree grafted to bear a variety of different fruits such as plums, nectarines, apricots, and peaches at the same time.) You will find a wide variety of opinions, beliefs, moods, outlooks, and attitudes among us. You might even question whether one of us truly belongs to the family, but in time you will see the inseparably connections. The foundations of our fore parents keep us well-grounded and attached to each other. Faith and love keep us thriving and growing.
While it may be true that people are living longer today than in times past, it’s also true that quality of life and human connection contributes to long life. We can’t give medicines all the credit. Our lives are richer and fuller when we invest time (work and pleasure) into the lives of others. That goes for the very young as well as the very old. You haven’t enjoyed the wonders of nature and the world until you’ve seen it through the eyes of a child. You can’t learn to appreciate you stand next to a master gardening in whose hands have tilled and sown the soil. Our souls are enriched when we receive the expressions of all ages.
Sadly, we are losing these interpersonal intergenerational connections. In our mobile and transient society many of us may not live near our relatives or childhood neighbors. Some of us multi-taskers may have difficulty finding the time to socialize with our extended family and community. I won’t even mention those of us who think a text, tag, or tweet is sufficient. I guess the real question is about value. How much to we value people? How much do we value relationships? Are our interpersonal connections worth the time and travel?
The other day I had a conversation with my sixteen-year-old granddaughter. She is such a joy to talk to. She’s a deep thinker, very creative, and kind of an old soul. My grandmother would say she’s been here before. At any rate, she paid me such a wonderful complement by saying she liked talking to me because I “got her” and she always knew what she would get when she shared something with me, meaning honesty. I worked hard to establish this bond with her when she was very young. I had no idea that she would one day live so far away. I was used to seeing her every day. Yet the distance between California and Georgia has not broken our bond. We Facetime often and I plan to visit her this summer. Our relationship is genuine. I am interested in the things that concern and interest her. Sometimes we respectfully agree to disagree. I’d like to think I’m helping to shape her worldview just as my ancestors helped to shape mine. I am certain she’s reshaping my view of the world by sharing the perspective of a progressive young woman of this era.
The last time my mom (soon to be 91), my oldest son (44), my other granddaughter (soon to be 21), and myself (no I’m not telling you my age😀) sat in the family room talking we had so much fun laughing at and with each other. We ran through a variety of subjects: high fashion in our various school days, dating (or courting depending on one’s age group), cooking successes and failures, and ghost stories. It was so reminiscent of a conversation I had years ago with my grandmother, my aunt, and my cousins. We were sharing the human experience from one generation to another. We were sharing our love, adventures, dreams and goals, but more importantly this fellowship was all in the family.
I believe family connections and multi-generational relationships are needed to give us balance and a sense of belonging. We all need stories of perseverance and persistence to encourage us. We need stories of success and survival in the face of failure to inspire us. We can benefit from stories of witty invention and following dreams to motivate us. Stories of defeat and disappointment have value as well. These interpersonal connections can build strong foundations for the young and give value and purpose to our elders. All of this is in the family, the family of our birth and the family of our beloved community. All we have to do is seek out these relationships.
Be intentional. Reach out to that great aunt or uncle. Invite your elderly neighbor to brunch. Ask the eldest member of your family to share something from their childhood. Give a young child an opportunity to talk about their favorite things. Have a multi-generational talent show. Use photos albums (even the ones on your phone) as springboards to conversations. Plan a family reunion. Take a multi-generational vacation. Make an effort to be in the physical presence of someone outside of your age range. Seek to understand persons outside of your range of experiences. You may be surprised at the vicarious wealth and resources available to you. You may even be surprised that you really enjoy the contact.
“A good life depends on the strength of our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and strangers.” David Lammy
Connect, relate, enjoy, and appreciate every generation! Afterall, it’s all in the family.