Yesterday I turned 65. Bill and I had a really great day together, including a birthday dinner at the house. But there was no big ritual about it. I signed up for Medicare the month before. The day before I got my senior pass for the T, which allows me unlimited rides for $28 a month. But I did give a lot of thought to generations.
Over the last several years Bill and I have lost all the family members of the generation ahead of us except for one of my uncles. We’ve also lost our mentors and people who inspired us as they walked the path ahead. I understand far better now Marian Wright Edelman’s need to write the book Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors to honor the people who mentored and shed light on the way for her.
Just a month ago, we lost someone who started inspiring us in college and continued to do so up until his death. John Dunne was a prolific writer who taught at the University of Notre Dame for over 50 years. He was a great lover of God who saw life as a journey with God through time – a great adventure of which death was, perhaps, the most adventuresome part.
Much as I’ve reflected on how grateful I am for people like John who have inspired me, what is grabbing me now is the realization that I have moved into that generation. And I’m not entirely sure I’m up to it. I don’t feel as wise or accomplished as they seemed to me. I also have to confess to feeling a little bereft at the loss of them.
Living in a community with an age range from 21 to 65 brings my reflections about generations into sharper focus. I am aware that I have a certain small wisdom to offer my younger housemates as well as our children and grandchildren. But what is abundantly clear and comforting is that they also have wisdom for me. Bill and I find ourselves in the shoes of learners as often as not at BHFH. And as Bill noted last month, sometimes even teachers need someone to shine a light.
Lately I find myself so moved and inspired by simple things: housemates who work so hard to be accepting and nonjudgmental of everyone, grown children who are passionate about their callings, grandchildren discovering their gifts, the newest grandbaby’s delight in the present moment and the people around her.
When I was younger, I had the feeling of following wisdom figures who were holding a lantern to help light my way. It was so important then to be drawn by the light and inspired forward. Now, I see younger people holding the light as they follow in turn. As it shines forward and gives hope for the future, it also lets me see the shadows more clearly. I’m grateful for that.
So my hope is that I held a lantern for those ahead of me, just as my younger housemates do for me. And I hope I’m able to shine some light for generations after me with gratefulness and humility.
Who has inspired you? What inspiration do you hope to leave behind?
Beautiful to read and so serendipitous it gave me goosebumps. Having just found this journal about an hour ago, I was thinking of what a profound role you played in my childhood. Bill, too. You showed me that a marriage could be built on love and respect. You made me feel seen. You introduced me to Janice Joplin at what? The age of 7, 8? and explained the line ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothin left to lose’ (!) and more importantly introduced me to that musical masterpiece ‘Free to Be You and Me’. You made me feel I was just fine as I was, and you made me feel accepted. Loved.
And through you I saw happiness in an adult. Joy! Laughter!
You gave me hope that misery wasn’t the only thing that merited respect. That it was possible to talk about hard or scary things without being judged. You are the first person I put on my ‘hero board’ – people who have taught me that life is, indeed, beautiful. Your light was so beautiful and magical it have a kid her first glimpse of hope. I hope I can share a fraction of that warm glow of life with some of the babies who come to me broken and scared in the middle of the night by a caseworker (stranger) to some goofy ol’ hippie chick (another stranger) (foster mom). I hope I can show them some of the authentic love you showed me, and maybe didn’t even know back then in ’74 or whenever. Your lantern is an important part of this human’s story. And I suspect it’s glow may have saved me more than you know. How many people do we lend hope to, or wound, without even knowing? Something I hope to remain aware of when a scAred kid is torn from the only love she knows and poured like a goldfish into a new tank, without the water having time to reach room temperature.
Xoxo. I feel blessed to have found you in cyberspace.
Caroline, thanks so much for this. I guess I’ve gotten to an age when I often wonder if I’ve done what I was meant to do in this life. Your comments reminded me that the connections we have with other people outweigh everything else. I feel so blessed that you have been part of our lives. Those babies are SO lucky to have you in their lives! I hope you come see us in Boston at some point.