The Greatest Generation

Today we honor  fallen veterans. I recommend you watch Honor Flight, a powerful and uplifting feature-length documentary film that chronicles a dedicated group of Midwesterners as they rally together to fly (completely free) as many of our remaining World War II veterans as possible to see the war memorials in Washington, D.C., erected in their honor. You can find it on iTunes and Amazon Prime.

Watching the movie with my family gave me pause to appreciate how life is about interconnections. Friends and family work with each other to share the beauty in their lives, to share meaningful moments, to honor those who have sacrificed for others and to impart positive gestures. Love, forgiveness, acceptance, honesty and sharing are the hallmarks of the human spirit. Since this movie honors members of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ as Tom Brokaw calls these individuals, I thought about our elders and how they are treated by different societies.

When people grow old in many traditional villages, family and friends care for them at home until their dying days. In America, the elderly are more typically sent to nursing homes — a contrast that may appear unfeeling, even cruel. But the ways in which societies around the world treat their elderly span a vast and varied range. The idea that it’s human nature for parents to make sacrifices for their children and, in turn, for their grown children to sacrifice for their aging parents — turns out to be a “naïve expectation.”

The movie Honor Flight believes life has value in and of itself. It shows people of all ages working to bring joy to these heroes during the last chapter of their lives. There is an age for all seasons. Each age group is designed to work, teach, entertain and counsel the other age groups. A baby brings joy, a child returns mystery, a teen demonstrates strength, a young adult revels promise, a middle age adult demonstrates fortitude and the elderly impart wisdom. Understanding the changing strengths and weaknesses of each age group allows society to appreciate a deeper understanding of human relationships.

The elderly have an ability to think across wide-ranging disciplines, to strategize, and share what they’ve learned. For instance, one WWII veteran responded to me when I complained about the theft of a sizeable amount of money (and he had significantly more stolen than me by the same person,) that this was not a problem. "Being shipwrecked at sea for days," he said, "now that was a problem." The refreshing and truthful perspective of an octogenarian well stated.

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