A Tribute—the Greatest Generation


I’m taking a detour from my normal subject matter. Maybe because of the approach of 2007 or maybe this is just what writers do—I’ve been thinking. Seems a lot of my thoughts have been about people of the Greatest Generation.

Yesterday President Gerald Ford passed away. He was 93, born in 1913, the same year as my father.

And yes, as Christmas rolled around, I couldn’t help thinking about my deceased parents. Mom would have been 92.

I also saw a week or so ago the greatest college basketball coach of all time, 96 year-old John Wooden. Not in person, but on TV, first at the Pond in Anaheim (I forget what the new corporate name is) during the Wooden Classic, then at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood when UCLA played Michigan. What a remarkable man even more than a remarkable coach.

But the capper for me was on Christmas Eve day as I was walking to church. Yep, walking. Our church is renovating some areas of the property, including the parking lot. In order to accommodate all the cars, the church obtained permission to use several neighborhood lots, including a school some three blocks down the hill.

It was from the school that I was walking. As I headed across the street, an elderly gentlemen waited for me at the corner to allow me to precede him on the narrow sidewalk.

We began to chat, and when possible, he moved beside me—street-side—but dropped back whenever a branch intruded into the way or departing folks needed to pass. In other words, he managed circumstances so my short hike was uninterrupted.

I learned that this man routinely walks a mile a day, but not on Sunday, so when the information came out about the options for parking, he eschewed the opportunity to park some place closer or in the lots that provide shuttles, choosing instead to walk so he has some exercise on his off day.

I also learned that his wife is about to celebrate her 80th birthday. The occasion seemed right, so I asked him what birthday he’d be celebrating. He said he’s now 89.

Then there are my uncles—Uncle Allen who will be 89 in March, Uncle Sam—still working out in his gym three days a week or so—turning 88 in July. Uncle Dave and Uncle Jim are the youngsters at 80 and 75, and Uncle Jim claims THIS year he will actually and completely retire.

I can’t neglect my Aunt Doris and Aunt Jean, both 83 years young. Aunts Mitzi and Ann are still in the range where they may not think kindly of my posting their age for the public. 😉

But here’s the point. It’s not the longevity of these folks I’m celebrating. It is their example of living. I realize, of course, that these are generalities, and not all members of the Greatest Generation lived life in an admirable way. Perhaps believers set the tone. I don’t know.

I do see wisdom and endurance as hallmarks for the people I know or know about. They went through the great depression and World War II and the Cold War. They saw more changes in their lifetime than anyone could imagine. From horse drawn carts to iPods. It’s amazing how they have adjusted and adapted and even led the way.

But the thing is, they have that sense of propriety, of right and wrong, of order and justice and graciousness, of kindness and the need to offer a helping hand. They are less apt to be boastful or self-oriented, more apt to be neighborly. Less apt to be frivolous in their thoughts, more apt to think beyond their own world. Less apt to indulge in indolence, more apt to push past pain.

Maybe it’s just my family, but they also have a sharp wit and a great sense of humor. Would that my generation, or even just me, could live as they do.

Published in: on December 27, 2006 at 12:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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