ParentCare » Vol. 3

Lessons of the Generations

By Christina P. O’Neill

Christina P. O'Neill

Christina P. O'Neill


Thirty years ago, my husband was on a bus bound from Amherst to Boston. His seat-mate, a young woman, was an artist or a teacher ~ or studying to be one. She was bound for Logan International Airport to escort some students to France for an art tour. For some reason, the talk turned to her Armenian grandmother. The young woman didn’t know Armenian and her grandmother did not know English. But the young woman vividly remembered her grandmother telling stories about the Armenian holocaust of the early 1920s. The words were undecipherable, but the voice and the gestures conveyed the story. The young woman recalled weeping when her grandmother told stories in a language she did not understand.

Thirty years later, my husband still remembers that story. Now, we ourselves are no longer young. The world is changing around us. It’s not only getting younger than we are, it’s getting younger, period.

In many developing countries, the average age is 15, the result of cutting down on infant mortality without reducing the birth rate.

If you are 15 years old in Rwanda and have grown up without the Internet, what would you score on cultural literacy? Will you someday tell your grandchildren stories that will make them weep, but which they must hear?

Every generation starts out with a blank slate and has to learn everything from scratch. Increasingly, they don’t have time to learn it all. Once upon a time, going from 0 to 30 was acceptable, the norm. Then it was raised to 0-60. Soon it will be further than one can go in a lifetime. And now, the things that are being forgotten should never be forgotten: Armenia, Auschwitz, Rwanda, repeat and repeat.

It is only through the survivors that we learn how precious life is. The wisdom of elders ~ despite the ravages of mental and physical impairment ~ is more often than not hard-won. The common experience is the tie that binds. Teach your children ~ and your grandchildren ~ well.

This will be my last issue of Vitality. I will miss the people I have met and I treasure the stories I have heard and recorded, and I am glad to have had seven years’ experience at this magazine and its predecessor. To all of you, good luck and Godspeed.

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