In his book, The Vanishing American Adult, then-U.S. Senator Ben Sasse pondered what might strike a person from the distant past as odd about our modern society. Aside from the technology, he said, they’d notice the extreme age segregation. Invariably today we spend time almost exclusively with people our own age.
Our kids go to school with other kids. We work with other adults. Our own parents and grandparents are shunted off to retirement communities and old folks homes and cruise ships. The average age in the U.S. Senate, where Sasse worked from 2014 until January of this year, is around 61, and there are only 10 people in it under 50 years old. When was the last time you stayed under the same roof as someone twice your age? How many conversations do you have with people who grew up without the things you completely take for granted?
In Lori McKenna’s song, Humble and Kind, she talks about “visiting grandpa every chance that you get.” It actually requires more than that, more than just seeing your own family. You have to make sure your kids aren’t stuck in a bubble, living their lives away from anyone but other children. Instead, you have to expose them to wisdom. Expose them to people who remember the good and the bad things that humans did in the recent and not-so-recent past. Expose them to people who have learned painful lessons. Expose them to people who have accomplished incredible things.
The famous Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes died two days short of his 94th birthday. But in those years, he managed to shake hands with John Quincy Adams (the 6th U.S. President) and John F. Kennedy (the 35th U.S. President), who were born almost exactly 150 years apart. Indeed, the 19th century remains just a handshake or two away. A few handshakes more and you’re back before the founding of America, a few handshakes more and you’re in uncharted territory. This is humbling. This is inspiring. This is eye opening. This is a human wormhole to timeless wisdom.
People born today might live for a very long time. But the people born a long time ago don’t have many years left. Meet them while there is still time. Let your kids learn from them while there is still time.