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Generations Apart
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Generations Apart

Can two people from different generations ever find common ground? A look how going back can help face the future.

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In the month of April I aged another year. With a smattering of years and life experience behind me, I’ve come just a little closer to realizing my fragile mortality. Through this experience I’ve changed in some ways and remained evergreen as ever in others. I haven’t lost that child-at-heart keeping that long-promised vow to myself. Like most egocentric children I still have the passion to make a change in the world but my worldview has undergone at least more than one adjustment. It continuously fluctuates between optimism and pessimism, from nihilism to realism, from apathy to empathy then pragmatism, then back to optimism all over again.

Laughter comes to mind when it becomes clearer that for every bit of knowledge I acquire, it becomes painfully clear how little I really know. Hahahaha. Only at the beginnings of this journey of life I stand, and my walk continues as the big blue ball rolls past the scorching solar sphere. There is much more to be learned.

Recently I’ve spent time with someone who has seen her fair share of the trial-filled trail.

I wouldn’t exactly call us strangers, as I’ve rented property from her for years. Yet I still didn’t really “know” her. Sure, I knew she tended to her gardens, cared for her animals and religiously rose before sunshine, but there was a gulf of difference between us. A gulf of understanding, a gulf of communication, a gulf of generations. What could two individuals over a half-century apart really have to talk about? One of the oldest tales in human existence is lack of common ground between people of different time-frames. Their experiences on the road won’t match yours, because the road changes behind them with each step. Like experience, roads can change and modify over time, as dust and dirt give way to gravel and tar. Many times the old and the young might be listening to the same show, but not tuned on the same frequency – “polite company” rules will apply. The interests and motivations just won’t be the same and time spent in proximity might become tense if there’s a lack of things in common.

For awhile I’d often wondered how to bridge the generational gap. Somehow I knew that the Nintendo Wii might be a way to strike common ground, and enable us to discuss things a little beyond the “polite company” kind of speak most people trapped in the generational gap do. Could two people separated by more than five decades really connect on that level?

On one cold and chilly day last October, I was helping her gather her plants into the greenhouse to escape the upcoming winter frost. While toiling away with the greenery, an idea popped into my head: “What if I bring up the Wii? Would she be interested?” Aside from the buzz from the impending launch, this idea had me plenty excited so I decided to run it by her to gauge her reaction. Was Nintendo accurate in this “Everyone” outreach they went on and on about? I mentioned Wii Sports and simulated how you don’t have to go “beep beep boop” anymore (thumbing an imaginary controller), instead swinging my arms in the motions of golf, baseball, tennis, bowling, and boxing to showcase the new control. I was surprised by her interest and was encouraged that technology may aid in building the bridge.

In reality my motivation wasn’t necessarily to get her to play the Wii, but to see if there was any chance of people so far apart in age to ever have any real common ground. Most of the things that interested me didn’t quite catch her fire. Me telling her about making mix CD’s, her telling me about lawnmowers cutting grass. Mismatched frequencies and neither getting the signal.

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Her longtime husband had passed away several years ago, and most other people in her life moved on for one reason or another. So she was pretty much by herself and I wanted to help out in this a little. Hopefully this videogame thing would open up the doorway of understanding at least a crack, and maybe help ease the loneliness she must have felt. Schedule conflicts interrupted the experiment for awhile, as my landlady stays pretty busy and always has. But at last my time and her time were in line and she got to finally play Nintendo’s Wii. I was amazed the whole time at how open-minded she was about something so foreign to her. More than anything I’d admired about her is how she didn’t let age slow her down from wanting to learn new things.

Many her age and less wouldn’t even try. Not my landlady, as she made the Mii in her own image and was ready to play. She asked for basketball and I had to regretfully remind her of the five sports in the game, that wasn’t one. So instead she picked baseball. I had great fun watching her pitch and bat the ball and generally just watching her enjoy herself. “Maybe Nintendo was right,” I thought to myself. For a crystallized moment in time we were on the same wavelength.

It was this kind outreach that made it fun for me to teach her how to use computers. To teach her how to work the mouse and manage all the different windows. How to boot and shut down the system. We were still two beings from a split in time, but the connection between us was much better than before. She’d make me breakfast (whether I asked for it or not!) while I came over early in the morning for the computer lesson, and we’d actually sit down and talk without the usual uneasiness in the conversation. Shockingly, it was here I heard a woman facing the inevitability of her mortality. I’ve heard similar type of speech before from my grandmother who left for heaven a couple of years earlier. These ‘end of the road’ soliloquies I would never get used to hearing. From time to time in the conversations I’d hear her preparing for the end and I’d quickly try to derail the subject matter. Did she really get the computer for her to learn on or just to pass along to me?

She didn’t have enough time for all that type of stuff, she’d say. When she was younger she’d be right on top of things, but didn’t have the energy now, she’d say. I negated her laments and explained how she accomplished more than most people my age, and how admirable it was for her to want to learn this stuff in the first place. I wouldn’t let her use her age as an excuse. I didn’t want her to extinguish her child-at-heart just yet. When the time comes, the time comes…but the time ain’t here just yet, and we’ve got more work to do.

My challenging of her resignations was maybe a challenge to myself as well. Was I also fighting for ME not to lose that child-at-heart too? Was I fearful of TRULY becoming old and unwilling to change and keep up with the moving times? Would I no matter how hard I fought turn out just the same when I reached that part of the road? Was I fighting the gap within myself that threatens to disconnect me from the younger generations?

We simply change when we age; I’d learned that truism only a few years ago. When I was a teenager I used to jump the fences like hurdles, if for no other reason than just because I could. About five years ago I tried to do the same and lost the nerve right up at the jumping point. Something in my brain chemically altered my actions and now I feared the fall more than relished the thrill of the leap. I wasn’t pleased by this turn of events, and strengthened the vow not to lose that essential part of me – the vigor that gives me strength to act and grow. That nerve. That vivaciousness.

Being a bit of a loner I found myself often getting lost in my own little world with my own little interests. Some of my friends had moved away, and I just stayed to the familiar and routine because there was little else I could do – it was habit. Just recently some cousins who lived a few towns over invited me to a family day. Even though we all lived close by, we hardly saw each other anymore—fault residing mostly in me. Bringing my Wii over as I had been doing periodically since I got it we had the usual fun boxing and bowling. It felt great encouraging my younger cousins in the single-digit range on playing their best and to not let losing the game destroy their morale. You know how kids can pout if they lose.

That family day a variety of generations were there, with members in their 20’s, 80s, and everywhere in between. All of us eating, talking, and enjoying ourselves together with a common focus point. A father tells his daughter to get under the swing when she bats the videogame’s baseball. The joyous interaction of the sister-in-law and the brother when she beats the bowling whiz on the digital bowling alley. Me getting knocked out YET AGAIN by a college-age cousin who knows how to scrap with a Wii-mote. The girl is fierce, I can’t stand it! Hahaha, all good times.

Going to the park and throwing Frisbees with the kids, trying to make half-court shots on the basketball court (and laughably missing!), rolling the youngsters around on the merry go ‘round…it was an experience I so much needed. That day I saw 40-year old men school young 20-somethings (to their surprise!) in the game of the Olmecs via James Naismith. I saw grown women having watergun fights with energy-filled rugrats. No escaping the Super Soaker! There was hope for the child-at-heart. Virtual or real, there was hope for me.

There will always be something to learn and we will all be as children wide-eyed, curious, and adventurous. To lose that is to lose life itself, and perhaps that helps in dealing with the inevitable march of time. Your physicality may decrease and your health may falter, but never lose that curious child inside you. That’s what keeps you truly alive.

Hopefully I can remind the lady across the gap that this must remain evergreen no matter how much we go through the changes…

Happy Birthday Mom!

About the Author: John Lucas