January 19, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Learning from the wisdom of the young(er)

Cynthia DewesIt seems I’ve reached a stage in life in which I’m learning a lot from my children.

Of course, we always learn from our kids, but I’m speaking about wisdom, a quality we usually discover in the older folks in our lives.

Perhaps it’s because he’s had a lot of time to mull things over while serving on lengthy U.S. Navy deployments in the Pacific Ocean, but our oldest son, Will, constantly surprises me with this very wisdom. He’s given to mouthing maxims, observations and pithy sayings that sum up reality or instruct his listeners.

Now, his dad and I are also given to pontification, so it’s no wonder Will’s inherited the trait. But in him, as with his dad, I find his philosophizing endearing, probably because I usually agree with him. I’m not sure that his wife and kids would think so, since a prophet is not always appreciated in his native land, but maybe they think it’s cute. Let’s hope.

One maxim my son dropped was the fact that he knew early on that, “In this family, you all get along.” Or else. Of course, he is correct. He learned that our idea of raising a family was to promote tactful honesty without guile or ulterior motives in dealing with each other, or indeed with anyone.

This does not mean that everyone in the family is/was forever cheerful, upbeat, obedient to all rules and generally perfect. This would be hypocrisy, another familial no-no. But it did mean that we go/went through sometimes painful confrontations in order to get past the hard things in a constructive way. In this solitary case, the end justified the means.

Will loves to proclaim, “Nobody promised that life would be fair,” a sentiment his children hate to hear. I wonder where he got that idea, wink, wink.

Adding to the maturing experience of his own kids, plus the hundreds of young people he’s mentored in the Navy, he offers this bit of wisdom truthfully because he knows that, “Whining will get you nowhere, so get over it.”

The corollary to this idea is another of Will’s and our favorites: “Nor did anyone promise that life would be easy.” People used to learn this early on, when Mom and Dad routinely thwarted some of their demands. But nowadays, it seems necessary to teach the idea to those who expect success without preparation.

My favorite among Will’s nuggets of wisdom is the one that says, “Women show their love by feeding people.” This may not be true for younger feminists, but it certainly describes me and my friends accurately. After all, stereotypical Jewish mothers are not the only ones who urge a second helping, another choice piece of chicken or an extra dollop of whipped cream on the plates of members of their family, or whoever else is at the table.

This is not to say that men don’t show love, they just don’t do it with food as often as the ladies, except for a romantic dinner for two here and there. This may be a different kind of love, but it’s still valid.

Will’s sharing of wisdom is a form of love as well. It follows the natural urge to help others by telling them what’s worked well for us.

Much of it is common sense proven successful over time, as in “the wisdom of the ages.” Surely it comes from God.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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