Wisdom by Way of Youth and Elder

September 7, 2010

I’m not all that sure when I first saw them on a volunteer project.  It’s been awhile though—maybe back in 2003 when Disciples Volunteering came to the region and partnered with United Christian Church of Yakima to build their facilities.  Since Friday, though, the two of them have been busy doing some of the hardest work on the roofing project—wheelbarrowing old shingles from the backside of the building to the front and placing them in the dumpster.  As that job went by the wayside with the last shingles thrown off the roof, they moved inside to begin the initial process remodeling the parsonage into a retreat and after-school center—gutting the building.

As I watched Quentin and Gabe haul away and bang out old cabinets, I wondered how they have become so settled in with volunteer folks of a different generation.  Over the years we have watched well over a thousand youth, young adults, and older folk commit their volunteer time to making a direct difference in the lives of the disenfranchised.  Great work has been achieved, but interestingly enough, most work has been accomplished by groups who have separated themselves by age.  There are those times that in the same year two groups from the same congregation, one young and one old, will arrive and volunteer in different seasons.  Inter-generational volunteer groups are few.

Easy to understand the separation in ages, we all do it in many other venues.  Most of us are most comfortable with people our age.  Yet in this case, two youth are hanging with people where the next youngest is probably three times their age (I try not to ask folks age, at least not too often!).  And the relationships they have with the older folk are what many of us hope for in our old age—a relationship of elderhood.  Each day I watch the boys talk and ask questions of women and men, hang around the circles of conversation, and of course, go off by themselves.  The time with those older than themselves is a time of richness.  Where ancient relationship is lived out—where wisdom is passed on between generations.  And one finds there is an equality to the wisdom of elders.  Young folks light up as an elder explains how figure the angle to cut a board, and elders raise eyebrows at the water break when the youth explain why gaming is important to them.  The experience of elderhood, seems to me, isn’t wisdom on a one way street, but rather more like a river eddy where wisdom is gathered from the whole circle of folks before heading down stream.

© David B. Bell 2010

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