It's interesting sometimes the things that jump out at you and inspire or move you. My wife and I were in Springfield, IL a few weeks ago and as we were going through the Lincoln Museum and Library, I was really drawn to a lot of the old pictures and documents that were on display. We so often look at these old black and white photos as just objects of the past. The people in the photos seem more like characters in a book. But the more I looked at the faces of the people in the pictures, the more I was moved to think about their lives. Sure some of them are famous people that we are familiar with, at least the mythology around their lives that we often read in history books, but most of them are nameless strangers that died over a hundred years ago. The more I looked, the more I was struck by the fact that they were real people, just like us, working hard to provide for their family, pursuing their dreams, and dealing with life's struggles.
One of my favorite things to do is sit down at a table and talk to my grandparents about their lives growing up. I'm fortunate to have both of my mom's parents (both in their late 80's) still around and even more fortunate to have spent considerable time with them growing up. If I could travel back in time, before going to see any famous people in history, I would go back and see my parents and grandparents at different periods in their life. Who they were then is a large part of who I am now. I would love to see them at the beginning of their lives, full of hopes and dreams of what was yet to come. We so often view the elderly in our midst as always having been the way they are now, a little weaker and slowed by age. But they were not always that way. They were vital, passionate, creative, strong, and hard working with dreams of making a difference in the world (which many of them did). We tend to think that our generation has it all figured out and that those in the old photos were somehow not as enlightened as us.
We couldn't be further from the truth. In fact I would say we are less enlightened in many ways. Oh sure, we are more "connected" to one another. With modern technology we can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But is this really a good thing? Sure it's a nice comfort for us when our teens start driving and we can get a hold of them, but are they really learning to handle issues on their own? Do we really need work to call us at all hours? Is it really essential that we conduct business at 10:00 pm instead of spending time with our families or pursuing a hobby to recharge our minds? And are we truly connected? We can send a text to someone on the other side of the planet in seconds, but how many of us really know our neighbors? Technology can open our eyes to all sorts of suffering around the world, but we too often just say, "isn't that sad" and never do anything about it. We often place those we see on TV and the internet in the same category as those in the old pictures, characters in a book, somehow not real.
Older generations seemed to have a better sense of community and what it meant to live within one. Were they perfect? Of course not, but they knew their neighbors and helped those in need around them. They may not have been connected to as many people, but the one's they were connected with they truly knew and cared about. Isn't that what we are called to do as followers of Christ? What will our generation be remembered for when we've grown old or have passed away. What will the people viewing our photos in a museum think about the nameless strangers they see? Will we be remembered for taking up the cross of Christ and serving those in need around us or will we be remembered as a selfish and greedy generation that cared more for ourselves than anything else?
I would encourage you to spend some time with the elderly around you. Get them to tell you their stories. In many cases, I think you'll be surprised at how interesting and exciting their lives have been and how much wisdom they can pass along through their life's experiences. Take time to look beyond the old photographs and the myths of history and get to know the real people and how they lived. I guarantee it will enrich your life.