Yes, the world is different now than when my grandparents and great grandparents grew up. But the things that are different are sometimes less important than the things that are the same.
My great grandma was born in 1900 and she lived until 1994. 94 years. And in that time she saw two World Wars, the building and removal of the Berlin Wall, countless tense political moments, the dirty thirties, the invention of the automobile, television, plumbing, lighting, computers, man going to the moon, and on and on. A fantastic time to have been alive! And so much change.
But what stayed the same through all of that was people and her relationships to people. Spouses who navigated differences, children who tested the edges of their rules, friends who supported and betrayed, and communities that rallied around each other or created outsiders.
My great grandmother passed away when I was 23. I had barely begun to live. I was newly married, in my last year of University, not yet a parent, and not yet experienced in most of the tough things that happen in life. I thought she was fun but for the majority of our relationship I thought she was old and dismissed her ability to understand my world.
Time passes. I now find myself at 45 wishing I could have talked to her about the lessons of the World Wars, how she managed a household constrained by the dirty thirties, and what her greatest triumphs and greatest regrets were. The things that probably remain the same for my generation.
I couldn’t appreciate the depth of knowledge of the important things that sat across from me when we visited her. All I saw was a tiny wrinkled woman who got her hair set weekly and who ate like a wee bird. What could she have shared with me that I wasn’t willing to ask about? By the time I realized the knowledge she held she had passed on.
Stubborn teenagers reject most advice simply because they need to flex their independence. Young families are self absorbed trying to get through all the firsts - first jobs, first kids, first houses, etc. It isn’t until your life opens up again when your kids are more grown that you can focus on meaning and purpose, community and politics, etc. Then you realize the things that remain the same. Then you realize you could have learned from your elders. But by then they are gone.