As kids, we can’t imagine getting old. I suppose that’s normal, especially in this society where young people have very few experiences with elders and are not taught to respect or admire their accomplishments. I didn’t have any living grandparents. All four of them died before I was five, so I really had zero experience with anyone older than my parents and teachers — mostly people in their thirties, forties, and maybe fifties.
That gap — growing up young with no insight into the life and experiences of older generations — is an dangerous gap. We lose our history. We lack understanding of what age brings, both good and bad. All we see are television or movie images of crotchety old people who are supposed to be my age, but look much older.
Our generation has not aged like our grandparents. Assuming we have had decent food to eat, have not gotten grossly obese, or have seriously damaged bones and muscle problems, we don’t wrinkle up and can usually still walk. Those of us who have kept in shape may do even better.
I’ve had a lot of issues with bone and muscle, not to mention heart and other parts, so while my brain is (mostly) alive, the rest of me hurts. It’s worse at night. When I’m up and moving around, the pain diminishes. I often find myself getting up several times a night to walk around for a few minutes, hoping that the pain in my lower back will ease up.
The problem is, I also need sleep. On a day like today and yesterday, when I’ve been up and down all night, I’m cranky. I live from lidocaine patch to lidocaine patch. Now that it’s summer, I can wear long loose dresses that help keep the patches from falling off. For lidocaine patches, the issue is always glue.
To get back to the intended subject, I didn’t start to get a grip on what I could learn from the elders of my human tribe until I went to Israel. One of our neighbors was an Auschwitz survivor and she had three big fears: men with loud voices, big dogs, and open fires. You can take a guess why these were foremost in her group of terrors. Of course there was also fear of not having enough food to eat, confinement, and having a gun pointed at you.
We watched a show last night where someone was supposed to have been a camp survivor — an old Magnum episode. Anyway, Higgins told his two Dobermans to guard the lady and they promptly took up close guard positions.
I looked at Garry and said, “She isn’t a camp survivor. She isn’t afraid of the dogs.” And, of course, she wasn’t. No survivor would have been able to be in close quarters with guard dogs. She taught me a lot about what happens when the country you thought was your own suddenly isn’t. The initial belief that “this can’t be happening here,” Followed by “They don’t mean … ME …?”
I had tried, before I left for Israel, to talk with my eldest aunt who had been a child when she came from the Old Country — which might have been Poland, Russia, or Austria — depending on the year. But she was in her late 80s and she pointed out that the stuff that had happened was more than 75 years earlier. She didn’t remember most of it, at least not clearly. She wasn’t demented. She was simply old. I wish i had asked more questions sooner.
I got a lot of history from my mother. She would talk to me while she worked around the house. About being a Communist, but changing to Socialism because the guys were more attractive. I’m pretty sure McCarthy would not have accepted that as a reason for joining the group, but it was even true when I was in college. Protests are great places to meet people who agree with you.
She told me how the U.S. government had too much food during the Depression, so they threw it in dumps and poured poison on it so no one could eat it. And how our anti-Semitic government made up of rich white guys were willing to let Hitler kill Jews. No problem. They only took up arms against him when he threatened American interests.She was always sure the Nazis would come back. I never believed her. But she was right and I was wrong. The haters never go away. They lay low when they must, but pop up like Whack-A-Moles when they have an opening.
There’s a lot to be learned from older people, the ones who were there, who lived a life and not an easy one. I learned a lot from books, but I learned more from my mother and the neighbors in Jerusalem.
Now we have grown old. Younger people somehow think we caused all their problems. Of course, we didn’t. We just rode the wave. Europeans and many Asians have been doing their best to destroy the earth for a long time. When our population expanded so between one city and another were more cities. Since they had trees, these places were called “suburbs.”
The damage was uncontainable. There is no giant hole into which trash can be tossed. You can’t mine or run oil pipelines through aquifers and expect the water to remain drinkable. When you burn or cut-down millions of trees, there is less air to breathe. Did WE do it? My generation?
We all did it. Individually and collectively. Corporations did a lot more and for us to earn money to live on, made us do more too. Even without a corporate push, we were lazy. We tried to create recycling and Earth day and that stuff, but too few people were willing to be inconvenienced. It didn’t work.
We set up a country — the U.S. — based on minimalism. On the presumption that anyone and everyone from anywhere could build a life, even if they had nothing to work with and even when they were poor, hated, downtrodden, and oppressed.
Everyone wants to help make things better until it means they are personally inconvenienced. Everyone feels there’s plenty of time to deal with whatever personal, regional, or international problems exist. We have families at war within themselves and nations that do their best to destroy anyone who isn’t “just like them.”
By the time we are old too, we no longer have the energy to fix all the stuff that’s been waiting for us. One day, the Nazis DO come back. Not the same Nazis. New ones. Same beliefs, just without the uniforms — at least so far.
A new disease sweeps the world and we’ve forgotten that exactly 100 years ago, it we had the worst pandemic ever. It happened many times before. Each time, everyone thinks it’s the first time because they never learned history and don’t read books.
So the world changes. Our future plans dissolve. We aren’t traveling. We aren’t going to repair broken relationships. The future has stopped for us. How did that happen? How did we let it happen?