The Round Table

Fred Smith

Fred Smith


April 19, 2023

Consider The Years

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A column by David Brooks, “The Life Reports,” included this line: “‎Resilience is a major theme...I don't think we remind young people enough that life is hard."  The purpose of the column was to report on the thousands of responses he had received to his request for readers over 70 to send him “Life Reports” or little essays in which they evaluate their own lives. In reading them he discovered how many of them had difficult lives and one of his conclusions was the above quote. Our young people need to be reminded more than they are about the inevitable difficulties of life for which they may not be prepared. Scott Peck, in his classic opening line from “The Road Less Traveled” said simply, “Life is difficult.” Is that a truth accepted by previous generations but overall a surprise to our children?

I had plans anyway to have coffee with two young friends (both in their late 20’s) but sent them the Brooks article and asked them to spend part of our time discussing it. What I heard was encouraging. “Yes, I think while I was certainly given more incentives and resources to achieve than some of my peers growing up, there was also the understanding that these were not entitlements but investments. People (not just parents) investing in my life had expectations that I would not assume a life of privilege and entitlement. These were not endowments, a safety net or a way to avoid natural consequences and risk. They were opportunities.”  

“I have no sense of living a charmed life but, so far, I have not faced a terminal illness, divorce or a career being derailed. Still, I don’t feel guilt about my life being interesting, satisfying and challenging. I do feel gratitude but not with a sense of dread that it’s just a matter of time until my turn comes. I am not unaware of the difficult lives of others – even others my age who are unable to find jobs or satisfying work – and I know I am not immune. However, I think their experiences have allowed me to develop a deeper empathy with them.”

One common experience?  Both have parents and grandparents who have shared stories about difficult times in their lives in a way that difficulty is seen as normal and even interesting. These stories were not preached – they were simply recounted. They were not war stories about unusual hardships but conversations about life. Both young men remarked how important those stories were and how much they value the ways in which they became a part of their own lives and understanding of the world. They became part of their own resilience.

It is too easy not to realize how much influence our stories have on those in the next generation and how they long to hear them. I remember taking my father for several years on a week-long trip to a place of his choosing where we would spend the time walking and talking. He told stories about his life. That annual week not only helped me understand his life but mine and the connection between our lives as well. My daughters gave me Storyworth for Christmas one year. Each week a question was posed and I responded in writing. It could be as innocent as, “Who was the first girl you kissed?” It could be, “What have been the hardest times?” When finished, everything was bound into a book for each of us to keep. 

There was a time in my life when I would have thought each generation has their own story and no right to foist it on the next. To live vicariously through your children or allow yourself to carry a father’s dream for his own life was completely unacceptable. My job as a son was to find my own mission independent of my family. My task as a parent was to help my children discover their own path free of mine. Whatever my unfinished journey was should not influence what they do with their lives. I believed then that God’s desire was for each of us to live out our own mission regardless of previous generations and not with any thought about those who follow. And then I read Genesis and realized it may take hundreds of years and a stream of generations to accomplish the work of God. Our life is connected to those who came before and those who follow. We are not a collection of independent short stories. There is no disconnected individual journey. Our lives are chapters in a novel whose author has woven us together to accomplish His purpose – one life at a time.

Scripture is right about this one. “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.”  This is how we learn. That is how we become resilient.

Art by Julian Stodd

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