MANY young people today have false ideas about the aged. They believe some elderly live in an unreal world of yesterday's values. Or that they are bitter with life - they never made much money, or managed to acquire many of the good things. How, then, can youth turn the clock back to communicate with them, or console them? So maybe we ought to let an old-timer tell it like it is. I am nearing 80, so I should qualify.
First, few of us live in a dream world. Most of us are aware of the facts of life. Nor are we unhappy about our life experiences. Generally, we made out all right. ``Successful?'' I would say so. Now, the word ``success'' is often misunderstood. It doesn't necessarily mean we made a bundle, or climbed to the top of the ladder. Rather, that we followed our bent in looking for congenial employment. We did what we felt by nature inclined to do.
But this is not true of many young ones today. Money is their goal, and personal values run a poor second. They don't yet realize that material obsession often results in character bankruptcy. So maybe we can counsel youth to be wise by following their inner voice.
Again, we oldsters usually have good memories, popular belief to the contrary. Sometimes young folks - usually in the family circle - borrow our books or tools or even our money, thinking that if they delay in returning them long enough, grandpa or grandma will forget. Not so, even though we may politely refrain from reminding them of their remissions. We recall much more than they often give us credit for.
More important, young people often feel we elderly don't care to chat with them. This isn't true. It's just that we believe the young prefer their own to talk with, for they have much in common. However, parents or grandparents should try to understand offspring, and, if need be, to speak their language. If we oldsters have a broad education - whether from academia or wide reading - we should especially enjoy the company and conversation of our juniors. We are thus reminded of their dreams and drives - incentives we especially need in our later years.
As for ideas to discuss, they are legion. If we are on the cultural side, we can converse with them about creation or evolution, if we have a mind to; the old Vienna triumvirate - Freud, Adler, Jung. Or ecology: Is acid rain eventually going to do us in? The promise and pitfalls of communism; theism and atheism; the influence of literature on our lives (for instance, the effect of ``Uncle Tom's Cabin'' on slavery and the Civil War); the rise and fall of nations (the Roman Empire, Greece, Spain, the British Empire); the meaning of beauty, and of suffering, and nobility. Or what makes a certain job meaningful for us, or the need for chemistry in mating, or why a small triumph in early life may prove to be the catalyst in later achievements.
Or, in more popular vein, we can converse on sports: football, baseball, basketball, fishing ... even we elderly can still remember the thrill of winning in physical competition.
But we who are older have a special knowledge - wisdom - to impart to youth. For instance, we know more about enduring love, so vital to marriage; the menace of seduction at any stage of life; the instability of the seemingly most ``secure'' job. We know more about these and related subjects than youth usually knows for some time. So maybe we can share a little of our experiences with our younger ones.
Finally, a thought about the very young: The newly born, the toddlers, children first learning the wonders and promises of life. Why are tykes so often attracted to those of us nearing the trail's end? It must be that some strange alchemy in us is at work, drawing us to those just beginning the great adventure, for the Alpha in them and the Omega in us seem somehow to unite us. The road is long, but youth and old age nevertheless seem to share a commonality: ``Where I have been,'' we veterans of the great battle seem to say, ``you, too, someday must go.'' So whatever our age, let's walk hand in hand, while time still ticks, on down that mysterious, tantalizing, ever challenging path.
``Do you love me, Gramps?''
``Yes, little one, I love you very much.''
That warm emotional bond between youth and years - between infancy, childhood, teens, and their later times - and our own graying days and darkening nights - that bond, sometimes so fragile, should never be questioned, and most certainly, never be severed.