This morning I was treated to an exercise class for seniors and people who are generally out of shape (read ME) and the leader introduced a concept of intergenerational “movement” which appealed to me a great deal. She brought back a memory: Long ago, when I was in high school, I was taught to do the polka by my date’s father, while his mother taught him. This was kind of an amazing experience since I had never been to any kind of dance where there were people who weren’t my peers. Later, as my date and I tried out our newly acquired skills, I was enthralled to watch his parents, who had probably been dancing together at least 25 years, tear up the dance floor. That long ago date’s mother passed away last year and this was the first memory of her that came to me when I heard the news.
Another memory in the same thread: In my freshman year of college I was totally engrossed in the college experience when a professor asked if anyone in the class babysat. Chronically in need of cash, and a very experienced babysitter, I raised my hand. After an evening with his small children I became achingly aware of the absence of children on the campus. I realized that it truly was a place apart, and on some level I don’t think I really wanted to be there anymore.
One other thought: My eldest daughter is in her 4th year of seminary. Except for the year away at internship, she has been an integral part of a family who lives close to her school. While she is technically their employee, they treat her as part of their family. This relationship has been tremendously enriching to her, and, I would wager, to them as well. In the course of her duties she has met four generations of that family and they have met her, and her husband.
We are built for community. In families it may be blood, or it may be love that binds us together. In the church it is water that makes us family. In the nation, it is history that binds us one to the other. We belong, whether we choose to participate or not.
Family is a powerful binding, but it’s not always practical or even healthy to live near one another. Community IS family – only bigger. And real communities and real families are intergenerational. I believe that everyone needs to know people of more than two generations (their own and their parents.) My children didn’t grow up near either set of grandparents but through telephone and e-mail and summer vacations they still know the love so generously given. And, when they come to visit me, they have many surrogate grandparents who are interested in their lives, in their stories. This is community. This is family.
It’s a win-win to make an effort to reach out to other generations and include them in our lives. Let’s listen to their stories and tell them ours. And, in the words of Steven Stills, (from about the time I learned to polka) “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with!”