December 23rd, almost time for Scrooge to be visited by the three spirits. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day mean many things to many people. Many who rarely attend church celebrate the season with purpose and fervor rivaling anything else they do the rest of the year. There is just something about it; the hustle and bustle of last minute shopping, and preparation for the feasts that will be laid out for family in the days ahead. When all is said and done, there will even be enough time to sit back and read through this year’s Christmas Cards, marveling at how tall the young ones have gotten as the old ones have become a bit grayer.
Even those serving the rest of us in the stores and shops seem to smile a bit brighter, unwearied by the long hours and the endless press of customers. We are all a bit like Scrooge on that Christmas morning; the time of the year, the Day itself, put in us Joy that we cannot seem to quite muster at any other time.
When we have passed through our youthful days of ripping the paper from our presents, greedily rushing through to be sure that every Christmas wish has been fulfilled, we are left with the rest, the important part: Time with family and friends; a meal shared, laughter, talk, and family games.
When we gather, we see the changes in each of us, the young ones who now open their presents more slowly and deliberately, those celebrating their very first Christmas, children now grown becoming what they were meant to be as they move into adulthood, and the oldest moving a bit slower each year. We laugh, we pray, we share our feast and at the heart of it all, the Christmas Story; the very first Christmas, the beginning of it all. The Christmas message creeps into our hearts; that child, born so long ago, born for us, to save us all. He who lived His life with Joy in His heart every moment, joy and abiding love for us all. Merry Christmas everyone, Merry Christmas.
As a child of the sixties, I was, as were most, sucked into the counter-culture. I didn’t fall irrevocably into that endless pit of quicksand, but for a time, I “checked out” of mainstream America. A major part of the “movement” was to disregard all that our elders had to teach us.
Our government, our parents, tried and true institutions that were the foundation of our society were ignored and in some quarters, reviled. They had been defined as “the system,” the enemy. We, trapped within the confines of our tiny inexperienced and undeveloped minds, were sure that we had all the answers; how wrong, how sad. What a waste of a generation.
I have finally reached that point in life where I get it. It being why one should respect their elders; the truth in the concept is evident in virtually all tribal cultures to this day, and was until the sixties, practiced in western society. As I talk with my two now adult daughters and my teenage son, I am amazed at how few questions they ask fall out of the scope of my knowledge and experience. The tables are turned, I am now a member of that “older” generation; one of those that historically earned the respect of those younger.
The dictionary definition of WISDOM is: 1. The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight. 2. Common sense; good judgment. 3a. The sum of learning through the ages; knowledge. b. Wise teachings of the ancient sages.
I think they dig a little too deep on that one. My definition of wisdom is simple and to the point:
“Wisdom is knowledge gained through observation and experience.”
A lot of the wisdom I have gained can be expressed in a few short phrases:
“Screw me once, shame on you, screw me twice, shame on me.”
“Assume nothing, trust no one, not even yourself.”
“That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” Nietzsche (very old, but very true)
“I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I experience and I understand.” Confucius
“Life is what you make it.” Art Erickson (my father in law)
“You are above average, you can achieve whatever you want.” My dad, and most dads
The part I really didn’t get about respecting your elders when I was young, is that a lot of that knowledge gained comes at a price: Grief, pain, loss and at times, suffering.
Part two of the price is aging; that slow process of decline in vision, hearing, strength and health. I am still young enough that I am in pretty good shape, but the word “arthritis” has become part of my daily vocabulary.
So in the long and the short of it here is the message: My generation squandered the opportunity to learn from the wisdom of others, we forged ahead, often recklessly, without the benefit of the experienced guiding hands of those who had lived before us. What fools we were. It took a long time to unlearn those lessons of the sixties and come to this simple undying truth:
“Respect your elders; they have for you a wealth of knowledge, respect and love. Through you they achieve immortality as they impart those precious bits of themselves to you.”
So sorry for the long delay dad, but I get it now. I finally get it.