It has been a few years now since my last remaining grandparent passed away. Both of my paternal grandparents were gone before my high school graduation, and — although they lived into their 80s — religion and family politics separated me from my maternal grandparents for the last decade or so of their lives. Great aunts and uncles were similarly unfamiliar to me. So, as an adult, I have barely known a member of what Tom Brokaw coined the Greatest Generation.
In the past month, I’ve seen my wife’s family lose four members of our grandparents’ generation — three friends who had become true family, and one blood relative. And it didn’t strike me until today that we are on the cusp of losing what remains of this entire generation. And I began to question whether we — our parents as Boomers and we as Gen X’ers — have paid enough attention, so that we might preserve the wisdom of those born before us. I fear that we’ve been too wrapped up in our present, failing to learn from them, committing their history to our collective memory. For them, our memories become their future.
Our grandparents were part of the last truly unplugged generation. So often, we dismiss those that remain as behind the times, unadaptive to the technologies that channel and record our lives. The grand (and not so grand) ideas of Gen X and the Millenials are being transcribed on server farms across the globe. Our posterity, our history — our immortality — is being preserved in minutiae for us. That of our oldest generation has no such advantage.
So I have a suggestion of sorts. Put down your iPod, step away from the Wii, turn off the TV, and find someone over the age of 80 and listen to them for a while. Buy them a cup of coffee, and just let them talk. Pay attention to their every word, commit it to your memory. In return for their time, you have the power to give them a little ounce of immortality.