Hearing the Voices of Elders Lost

by Sharon Rosen Leib February 27, 2017


musings-marchIn this scary alternative-factual world, I long for the wisdom of elders. I miss my 102-year old Bubbe and 92-year-old Great-Uncle Paul, who both died with their wits intact. Unburdened by the weight of Attention Deficit Disorder-inducing Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds, text messages and email, they had plenty of time to watch reputable tv news outlets and read a wide range of publications. Their lightness of digital being enabled them to think and contextualize current events based on a century of real-life experience.

I’d much rather be conversing with them than listening to mind-numbing talking heads on CNN or reading the panic-inducing Twitter feeds of New York Times columnists. That said, I’m happy my Bubbe didn’t live to see the day President Trump issued his temporary and, in the case of Syria – indefinite – immigration ban on traumatized refugee families from seven predominately Muslim countries. The president’s heartless stroke of pen would have made my grandmother apoplectic as in, “What the hell happened to my goldene medina – the one who welcomed us?”

Imagining the ever-sharp voice emanating from her wheelchair-bound body makes me want to cry. As an 8-year-old girl, Bubbe and her family fled the violent, anti-Semitic pogroms roiling their small Romanian shtetl to come to America – their new dreamboat country. The ugly, nightmarish state of current affairs would make her shiver with cold disillusionment.

But then she’d perk up and leaven the tragedy with Yiddish-inspired wit. “Oy! What does that putz with the ridiculous hair think he’s doing? He has no right to keep desperate people out! Feh! He should be ashamed of himself!” Astute, succinct words (even if only imagined) from the wise truly are sufficient. Why obsessively read David Brooks’ columns when I have Bubbe’s voice in my head?

On the other hand, I’m saddened that my Great-Uncle Paul didn’t live to see his wildest conspiracy theories vindicated. The son of a pioneering movie producer, Paul spent his entire life in Hollywood and worked as an assistant director in cinema and television for five decades. His film-land experience endowed him with a brilliant sense of sarcastic humor and a fine-tuned bull-shit detector firmly lodged in his brain.

He viewed reality tv as a cheap opiate of the masses. The fact that Trump sprung from his shticky gig on “The Apprentice” to the Presidency wouldn’t have surprised him.

“I told you tv lobotomized the American people.  After watching all that crap they don’t know their asses from their elbows. That’s how we ended up with Bozo as president,” I hear him saying in my head-speak.

But his real thrill would’ve been all the news about Trump’s campaign team colluding with Russian President Vladimir Putin to kneecap Hillary Clinton. The clandestine meetings, bugged hotel rooms, poisoning of enemies, veiled threats to foreign journalists – all so redolent of a 1930s B-movie script – would have had him crowing “I told you so!” Actually, he may have been disappointed at the amateur-hour obviousness of some of the espionage. Not subtle enough for conspiracy purists like Paul. I must admit he was spot-on.

After consulting the memories of my elders, here’s my advice: put down your smart phones for a few minutes and spend real face time with your family elders. They’ve lived through world wars, been immigrants themselves, survived violent anti-Semitism and witnessed history unfold. Spanish philosopher George Santayana, who died in 1952, warned us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

If you listen long and hard enough to your elders, you’ll remember their pasts – and, in troubled times, be able to hear their comforting voices in your head. 

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