(Note:  I don’t know why the comments have been disabled for this blog entry.  I didn’t do it and I can’t seem to undo it.  Thank you so much to all who have sent email and Twitter comments!)

This week my classes read two folk tales from other cultures that shared a theme: respect your elders. I asked them why they thought that was such a universal theme in folk tales. Well, let’s see: folk tales are passed down through oral tradition. And that oral tradition in any culture starts with whom? Right….the elderly! It’s no wonder it’s a universal theme!

But it started an interesting discussion. I asked how many had grandparents and great-grandparents still living. I was thinking, too, about that fellow on the internet this past week who said most won’t be remembered even a few generations from now – your great-great grandchildren won’t know who you were. The living great grandparents, represented by these children, will likely not be remembered or known, even through stories, by the children of these students.

So I did what I do….I started talking, telling stories. I told about my grandmother whose lifetime took her from horse-and-buggy to seeing a man walk on the moon. I reminded them of FDR and said she saw his funeral train go by. The things I read about in MY history books, my grandma had SEEN. Soon I began hearing, “cool…. that’s wild…..” I was getting there.

I talked about my Dad and how just a few short years ago he retired from working as a communications engineer for a city. He fixed their radios and two-ways by opening them up and fixing wires. Just a few short years before that he repaired television sets. He went from tubes behind the screen to the screen so flat it’s up on the wall now. That second world war they’re reading about in history? Yeah – he was there. More “….whoa….” Getting closer.

So I talked about me. Older’n dirt to them, I’m sure, but still not that old in reality. Yet when I was a child if you had a remote control for your tv, you were really uptown. I WAS my Dad’s remote control. But turning channels didn’t take long – we only had three. And get me started on the computer in my high school math class and the one – two! – sitting on my desk now.

They were really listening. So I moved in for the kill….. You have elders in your life, I told them. TALK TO THEM. I know they ramble sometimes and it makes you a little wonky, but listen to them. Some gems slip through. I told about my grandma riding to town all straight and trying to make an impression on the handsome soldier-boy home from war. And that’s the precise moment the horse decided to blow the air out he’d been holding, the saddle loosening and slowly rotating her over until she plopped in the dirt. The faces on my listening girls told me they were feeling her pain. He helped her up, I went on, but she was too devasted with embarrassment to appreciate it. TALK TO THEM! I said. They have little gems like that you wouldn’t expect.

Strange, isn’t it, that we have this tremendous resource available to us and we overlook it? We are the young, the strong, the active. We’re the ones who earn the money, make their laws, run their world. And there they sit, these veritable treasure troves of stories, knowledge, and the type of wisdom that only comes through experience — an untapped resource.

Go find you an old person. Start asking questions. Then open your ears, and perhaps your heart, and listen. You’ll walk away wealthier.

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