My son Sam’s school does this awesome World War II unit, which lasts nearly the entire spring. It’s an interdisciplinary section, reading novels about the war, studying the Great War in history, and finally producing a term paper and history project due the day the veterans arrive to share their memories with the kids.
These veterans who are slowly disappearing, share their experiences before the ultimate happens: their memories fade and pass finally when they do. It peaks an interest most kids have never had in the war, and the people who endured it. Sam called my mom to interview her about her father and his experience in the service. Stories long since filed away, (no one seemed interested) came back to life, and with them, a pride in the telling came from my mom’s soul.
These stories are what so frequently allows our hearts to rehearse what depth really is. Those in the greatest generation were raised in frugality, with strength as a central core competency. I’ve long known there is a piece of my soul that longs to hang out with the greatest generation. Perhaps that is why I fell so hard for Habitat: it allowed me to work day to day with those guys— who were the 70 and 80 year olds back in the 90’s.
My grandparents each made their mark on me. It’s funny how that happens, maybe they help us understand our parents— whom they raised to have assets they were never afforded. Now, 20 years later, my parents move into their 70’s and I’m curious about what makes these boomers tick.
Raised by those lucky enough to make it through the war.
Living through the Civil Rights movement, fighting Vietnam.
This is the generation who learned not to take human rights for granted; saw what happened when we stayed silent too long in Germany.
They are a generation who loves in acts-- their service and philanthropy creating pockets of justice where they’ve sprinkled their generosity. I get to see them fill in for the generation before them now on our Habitat job sites. Some coming every single Wednesday and Thursday. They are not stoic about their giving, they give tenderly and connect sometimes very deeply with our future homeowners, but there is a sense that they do this because “that’s just what you do,” like showing up for church on Sunday, and going to work at the same job for 45 years. It’s part of the recipe of how you live a generous life.
Getting to know these boomers in a different light has just started to happen for me. I had the honor of traveling with one of these baby boomers to Uganda a couple of weeks ago--seven generations on this Earth, and he’d never had a passport. What made him decide to hop on a plane to meet 4 of us for our rural Ugandan Habitat tour in the developing world? He felt called. His wife decided that God’s provision for him in Uganda would be the same as it is in Atlanta, I believe that's the only reason he got to come along.
Strength. Bravery. Building dignity in the human race. That’s what he is about. Likely if I got curious enough, those values probably stem directly from what his parents lived through. Now a retired banking executive, he is gifting Habitat with his last few years of working service. He led us in devotions several times, and taught us about living in the Spirit. As he jumped into travel in sub-Saharan Africa, in the midst of deep, rural developing world poverty, he showed me the honorable path of radical love in the face of fear.
I imagine my friendship with this tremendous man has only just begun, and I’m certainly blessed even to know him. I'meven more graced by being present as we first experienced the abundance of hope together in a place where there is so much financial poverty. An illogical hope which we carried home with us. Re-examining the awesome gifts of the Boomer generation will be among them.