Most people would agree that it’s a good thing we can’t see what lies ahead of us in life. If we knew something good was coming, we would lose the surprise and the elation of the moment. Knowing of something bad would make you try to think of a way to avoid the future, but that only happens in Wonderland (the Queen told Alice she could think of six impossible things before breakfast).
Still, we all have our private crystal balls in which we try to divine what lies ahead. When we are young, we think about growing up and the responsibilities that will come with adult status. We also think about the benefits, like not having our parents tell us what to do. When we reach adulthood we move out, sometimes even away, and we take jobs because one of those responsibilities is paying the bills. If we’re lucky, we have a partner in life. If we have children, we worry about them even before they are born. We never stop worrying, but eventually we learn that they can handle quite a bit on their own. Their independence is a sign that maybe we didn’t do such a bad job.
At middle age, things change. For one thing, the parents who used to tell us what to do aren’t doing as well as they used to. We may even have to give them gentle advice – slow down a little, accept some help, get more exercise. Looking the other way, we see our children, not quite grown up but at least partly launched, and the generational cycle becomes more visible. And we recognize the reality of growing old. We may deny it – how often has someone in his or her 50s looked in the mirror and thought, “I don’t look my age.” Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it’s just a wish.
When do we reach old age? Is it a matter of years, or is it a state of mind? When our grandparents were in their 60’s and 70’s, they were old. Or at least they seemed so to us. Parents are different. We push off the beckoning of old age for them, probably because we know we are next. In that sense, we can see the future.
Now we are “seniors,” our grandparents and parents gone. If we have grandchildren, we look at them and see the future. In them we also see the past, ourselves a long time ago, except, somehow, they seem better than we were.
My son recently mentioned that he wasn’t quite sure how to teach good manners to his children. Not that they have bad manners, just not quite good enough yet. I told him not to worry, just make them aware that their parents expect that of them. It doesn’t have to be a matter of punishment or reward, just part of the compact between parent and child.
How do I know that? I learned it when I was young, when I understood that my parents not only loved me, they trusted me. The least I could do, in return, was say please and thank you.