When I was a kid, we didn’t live close to family. Our grandparents couldn’t share parts of everyday life or come to our games or concerts. In fact, the majority of the time, we were separated by international borders and many state lines from our extended family. So, not ever having close relationships with older relatives, I’m not entirely sure how it happened that among some of my dearest friends are those born in what is often called “The Silent Generation.” They’re individuals who are between 78 and 95 years old, and let me tell you right now: they’re hidden gems.
Last summer, I got a text from a man in my church asking if I’d like to join him and a friend in the park for an impromptu get-together. It was later afternoon and when I arrived, they had two chairs set up and a cooler between them. There wasn’t any entertainment at the bandstand nor a scheduled event that precipitated being together. We simply sat in our folding chairs and ate some popcorn and chatted about everything and nothing all at once. We saw a splash in the pond and went to investigate what animal it might be. There was no big agenda other than presence and appreciation for the warm afternoon.
Every Thursday, I go to an antique store owned by another friend who just turned 85, and we sit together. Sometimes, we walk across the street and go Dunkin’ Donuts for tea, but these days, he doesn’t have much stamina for anything else. We can’t go on walks like we used to as he gets less stable. There’s not much room for big adventure, but we can sit and talk and I repeat myself a lot because he considers his hearing to be just fine without the hearing aids he keeps in his pocket.
And this is what I keep thinking about: when we slow down enough to listen, the Silent Generation has a whole lot to say about pace and commitment and kindness. They have seen so much, and yet we hardly ever ask them to give us advice or insight. We often just wave to them at church on a Sunday and then go to lunch with our friends that are our age, scrolling on our phones and hanging out with people facing the same challenges we are. And when we do this? We miss out on a whole lot.
Last week, I went on a walk and as I passed another couple’s house from my church, I nearly walked right past. It was getting dark and I wanted to get back home, but I decided instead to call them and say hello and she said to me without hesitating, “Want to come in for some tea?”
As I walked inside, the room looked much more bare than usual and some furniture had been rearranged. I looked at this kind, retired couple who told me that they were getting ready to move. It was a quick series of events, but they wanted to be close to their grandkids. Finding myself in a season of job searching after losing my job weeks earlier, the husband looked and me and said, “I guess we’re just sort of in a Melissa-ish season of transition, too!”
How could we be in the same place 40 years apart? And that’s when I saw the thread of these friendships start to pull together the fabric of our lives. Life is the same thing over and over. Wins. Loses. Promotions. Failures. Life. Death. And while our circumstances may be different, our human need for connection and our reliance on Jesus for everything doesn’t shift. We sat in that empty kitchen and we laughed and it got dark outside and before I left, we prayed for one another. And our prayers were almost the same, too.
Job 12:12 tells us, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”
This is the gift of the Silent Generation: they understand because they have lived and watched the world ebb and flow. So as we face these rapids and unexpected life joys and struggles, they’re like an experienced guide, helping us through the whitewater, telling us what to look for.
We may be repeating ourselves for their benefit, but they’ve repeatedly witnessed the faithfulness of God enough that we need to listen.