Calling the Elders

Last evening our Ecstatic Wisdom Posture group met and someone mentioned it was Equinox.

Mouth hanging open, I couldn’t believe I had forgotten the return of Spring. In this temperate region where I now live, every season seems like Spring or Fall to me. Cool but not so cool that green isn’t burgeoning everywhere. And of course rain always.

I’m a bit out of whack…

I smiled because yesterday I had revised a post written at the last equinox to make it suitable for an alumni reunion publication. My 50th college reunion is coming up in June.

So, here is my call to the elders, to tell the stories of how we used to live before the digital age. It’s a call for all of us really to honor the needs of our human souls:

My nine year old granddaughter picks up a National Geographic from my coffee table. “We were alive 4 million years ago?” she asks with astonishment. The cover shows the skull of the latest anthropological find, “Ardi,” the oldest known female hominid skeleton.

Over all those millions of years, we humans slowly evolved and our lifestyles didn’t change very much. In the evolutionary eye blink since my alma mater was founded
( 1846 ), our two-legged lifestyles have changed profoundly, our priorities have shifted. The halcyon days of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s are the very same days that widened the rift between our bodies and our brains begun several generations earlier. We now suffer from a huge rent in the fabric of our human nature, the nature that has been with us for literally millions of years.

Last Fall, I volunteered to assess a stream preparatory to monitoring the return of salmon. We three women, each an elder, gathered on the driveway near our cars to decide on a date for the next stream side visit. Not one of us had a blackberry or an I-phone on which we keep our calendars. I suddenly started laughing. We are a throwback to times gone by. We keep our calendars on paper. The fish biologist, a “youngster” who may not yet be sixty, chimed in: “Hey, my wife and I keep our calendar on a dry erase board. We think that’s modern.”

I love this meeting of comrades. We grew up with black phones, ONLY black, with receivers connected to a wire connected to the body of the phone connected to the wall. AND a real person, almost always a woman, of course, said, “Hello – what number are you calling?” when we picked up the receiver and dialed “O”. A real person was always waiting on the other end of the line. Miracle!

Our Mothers and Fathers, at least mine who were a bit older than most when I was born, witnessed the invention of the airplane and the horseless carriage. My folks wrote long letters routinely – real letters on real paper, sometimes written in long hand with an ink fountain pen and sometimes typed, folded into an envelope and mailed with 1 cent stamps. They made dates and appointments, apologies to friends and professions of friendship by writing hard-copy.

30 years ago – I remember this exactly – October 15, 1981 – everything changed. Only 30 years ago, a personal computer cost $10,000 and my husband wanted to buy one.

My own children grew up without computers, digital cameras, VCR’s, DVR’s, CD’s, DVD’s, MP3’s, cell phones, I pads, I pods, whatever else exists now that didn’t 15 years ago. My kids loved rock music and went crazy over turn tables and tape decks – what a wonder!!! They did grow up with TV and Sunday family dinners in front of Walt Disney, but I didn’t see my first TV, black and white of course, until I was around 10 years old. Everyone flocked regularly to ooohhh and ahhhhhh in the neighbor’s living room during that brief time before every household on the block purchased one.

Imagine a childhood now without computers. It’s hard isn’t it?  My son tells me his sons are called “digital natives.”  We humans have been on this planet falling in love, sexing, eating, belching, singing, dancing, breathing, writing poetry, making music, dreaming, telling stories, chatting about our lives, making plans, starting wars and envisioning peace, experiencing loss, wonder, fear, success and fulfillment for millions of years.  But in only one generation we’ve become addicted to instant communication and constant visual streaming stimulation. Deadlines are NOW. Multitasking is the norm, not just the domain of harried mums. Life has speeded up beyond our capacity to respond, and we’re falling ill from stress and confusion. We’re reeling and don’t even know what’s spun us around.

The onslaught of computers and digital media have come upon us so quickly we’ve forgotten we have the right to choose how to use them.

As I walk the salmon stream, I ponder the myriad, inextricable conundrums of today and wonder how we will find our way back to a more reverent and balanced way of living. Here on this wealthy island in the Pacific Northwest, where people love nature and are devoted to sustainability, toxic waste and rain sluiced heavy metals from cars on the highway still contaminate this stream that for thousands upon thousands of years hosted spawning salmon. Foam is gathering, a sign of too much nitrogen. The fish biologist is discouraged. He’d expected to see a few young salmon this year – but there are none.

My granddaughter asks, “Gemma, why do you care about salmon?”

Her question highlights the complexity of our time when we have concluded as a culture that relating to nature is an option.  We elders can lead the way toward awakening our culture to remember a greater truth. We’re old enough to have experienced a childhood more closely aligned with human essentials – our creativity, imaginative juice and the spark of physical engagement with the world around us.

We elders living now are the last humans to bridge the old ways with the new.

May we begin telling our stories before it’s too late.

 

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About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, and eco-psychologist, mother of four and grandmother of eight.
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6 Responses to Calling the Elders

  1. cindaann says:

    Being a decade younger, I wanted a pink Princess telephone. I would be so cool if I had my own phone – not one of those old black one. My best friend had one – her father was a dentist and could afford two phones in the house. My parents could not understand why I would want my own phone, ” Who would you call ? they asked” I could call Jean I replied and they said but you can run next door and talk to her anytime. Parents just didn’t understand. When we moved, we would have to wait at least a week for the phone guy to come to the house to hook up the phone. I never got my pink princess phone but when I was ten and my oldest brother left home, he gave me his radio – my most prized possession and I still remember listening KOMA Oklahoma city and dreaming of places far far away!!!!

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    • Deborah says:

      Oh the pink Princess phone thing. I never had that opportunity but I remember my kids having all kinds of playful phone possibilities, not that we indulged that way, but we could have. Thank you thank you for making time to reminisce. love you

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  2. Alis says:

    Oh my, dearest Deborah. Loved your post, as always, and was dumbstruck by the truth of your statement, “We elders living now are the last humans to bridge the old ways with the new.”

    I too, at age 48 grew up with just a small black and white tv with 3 channels, which us 5 kids fought over, along with one corded phone, plugged into the kitchen wall. We’d have to pull a chair up to talk on it, and oh, how my sister did hog that phone! And no call waiting. I wrote my college papers on typewriters, then happily advanced to a word processor, when those first came out – I remember it fondly as a huge leap forward. Remember carbon copy paper??? Remember the days before spell check?

    I believe that the jury is out about whether all this technology will turn out to be a good or bad thing (think about how technology has supported Japan in getting the global coverage – with lots of personal stories and images – it needed to get as much help as quickly as possible, for example). I love that I can reach my child via cell phone, any time day or night when he’s out with his friends or traveling. I love that I can stay in touch with family through facebook updates, cell phone videos and up-to-date digital images. I’m grateful for spell check, for my daily horoscope and for the email newsletters I receive from my favorite bloggers, all of whom inspire me. I loved having a late-night, on-line social life when my son was a baby, and I was tied more closely to home. My teenager, a budding writer, used the internet to pitch an idea for an article to a national rock and roll magazine. Within hours, they agreed with his concept…he then emailed the band, asking for an interview (a Wisconsin-based band, who he’d seen days before when they were in town), and within a week, his article had been accepted for publication in next month’s issue! My son’s an overnight, freelance writer for a national magazine at age 17, thanks to the internet.

    The downsides are obvious, including the fact that no matter our profession, with few exceptions, we seem to spend all our time staring at a screen rather than relating to the people around us (even doctors now spend much of their appointment time inputting everything we say into a computer). On the other hand, I can’t overhear my son’s phone conversations, but I do stalk him on FB, quietly keeping tabs on him and his friends. My siblings, all with small children, don’t have time to write long letters to keep auntie up to date, but they frequently post status updates and pictures of their children on FB, so I feel connected that way. My move back to the bay area was easy after a 5 year absence, thanks to the connections I maintained with old friends via email and social networking sites. With the ease of flying and driving, my son has maintained a close relationship with his other mom, even with a thousand miles between them. (Once I moved in with my dad at age 12, following my parents’ divorce, phone calls and flying were cost prohibitive, and this teenager didn’t write a lot of letters, and so the connection with my mother was largely lost. Not so in today’s world – Jack communicates with his other mom nearly daily, through various mediums). As a “writer at heart”, I often prefer the written word and written communications over the spoken word, so I’m in hog heaven with this medium.

    Still, it saddens me to see Kindles replacing books, and book, video, and music stores going out of business, and I wonder when and if the classics will become obsolete, as our children’s attention spans continue to decrease and any interest in history and what-was no longer captivates.

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    • Deborah says:

      So good to see you still live!!!! I miss you practically every day and thank you for your thoughtful response to my call for more of us to speak to what’s really important about living…I am so very glad to know your are flourishing. love you lots

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    • Deborah says:

      Alisa, how wonderful to get this long comment from you. Thank you for your heartfelt musings on living life. I can’t believe I didn’t reply to this when you sent it but I’ve just noticed my lapse. Forgive me please. My life has been such a swirl that I’ve not been blogging and I miss it…today I am attempting to return…thinking of you as I do.

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  3. cindaann says:

    I had the privilege of growing up with nature, living in the great outdoors. Spring, summer, and fall every Saturday after dad go home from work we headed for the mountains to camp and fish. Along the roadside we began noticing these tall poll crossed close to the top and wondered, ‘What are they for?’ Soon a large sign was hung from the poles just below where the poles crossed – KOA the sign read. ‘What that’ my little mind asked, and remember my father with his soft chuckled say, ‘Kampgrounds of America, they are going to charge people to camp’. Why would people pay to camp when it’s free to camp anywhere, we wondered in amazement.
    In 1962 a Billings business man, Dave Drum, saw the need for campgrounds with showers and running water. People were traveling to the Seattle World Fair from across America and his idea caught on like lightning. Gas was 31 cents a gallon.
    I remember in 1984 or 85, Bill Gates made a prediction that a PC (personal computer) would be as common as the telephone in every household in American. Unbelievable since you pointed out Deborah, at the time a computer cost $10,000.

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