During his participation in the Youth Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Pope Francis called upon young people to honor their grandparents. It seemed like a simple request, but it was one that hit home for me personally. Perhaps, I identified with it because I am newly retired, but I would like to think it was due to the importance of his message.
You see, his comment — “relationships and dialogue between generations is a treasure to be preserved and strengthened’’ — are words we can all live by, including us in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Respect for the elderly is one of the nicest attributes we possess in this region. Larger and more transient areas in which my wife, Tina, and I have lived do not possess the same respect for older generations. Families there are not as closely tied together and youngsters are not as involved with their grandparents or even their great-grandparents, as we are here.
Perhaps this regional characteristic of inter-generational respect stems from the fact that northeast Pennsylvania still maintains much of its immigrant characteristics. It may also be because the mean age of NEPA is older than the majority of the rest of the country or perhaps it is because — as the Pope suggested — religion often does bring generations together.
Having lived in many cities and regions of the country prior to moving here, my wife and I were fascinated by the region’s close family ties. This characteristic manifested itself in many observable ways: Weekly or bi-weekly family dinners, family celebrations, vacations involving multiple generations, and recreational and educational activities often involve children, parents and grandchildren.
There is an assumption among many people who have lived here for generations that everyone has large and proximate families. During our first Thanksgiving in NEPA, for example, our new friends simply assumed we would spend time with our family for this traditional holiday. We were a bit lonely that day as our closest friends and family members lived thousands of miles of way. Even though this community is wonderfully hospitable no Thanksgiving dinner invitation was forthcoming. It dawned on us a few days later that this was not a slight in any way. Our new friends simply assumed we would be spending Thanksgiving dinner with family.
The Pope’s words and those of so many other people who laud the personal and community benefits of intergenerational dialogue and close relationships are institutionalized here. One of the latest ways we are enhancing respect for our elders is through “Generation 2 Generation.” This local volunteer group is interested in spawning closeness among the generations outside of the traditional family.
This informal association is the brainchild of Eric Lee and Joe Devizia and Mahmoud Fahmy. Together, they plan and hold meetings, social gatherings and essay contests that are designed to stimulate conversations and learning among the young and the old. The annual “Generation 2 Generation” dance includes octogenarians and college students, which is loved by everyone in attendance. The essay contest produces much more than some very thoughtful writings by high school students about what they have learned from their grandparents. It also stimulates some very thoughtful reflection upon what the young can learn from the elderly about what is truly important in life. And yes, it also suggests how the old can occasionally learn from the young.
To live in a region where our elders are respected and revered is a treasure we should not take lightly. As our country’s population ages more, much larger communities will be looking for new ways to initiate intergenerational dialogue and to better integrate the young and the old. We in NEPA will be seen as a role model for cities and states predominately populated by “young people.” Let’s hope they can learn by our example.