Both of my grandmothers died this year, which has really messed with my sense of generational place. I’ve had grandparents actively involved in my life for 39 years. I have young parents who also had young parents; I know what a gift and rare thing it is to get to be this old and just now be moved up the living generational ladder.
Intergenerational relationships is something I am regularly grateful for and rarely talk about. My friends are just…my friends, you know? But I had regular, intimate conversations with my grandmothers until they died. I got to hear stories and ask questions and be connected to parts of who I am in ways that my parents can’t fully explain to me and that I won’t otherwise have any access to.
I have a writing group that has been meeting monthly and retreating annually for almost 9 years now, a group that is currently made up of three grandmas and me, women in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, who somehow don’t mind my relative immaturity and just keep sharing their experience and wisdom and love. It is simultaneously comforting and discouraging to know, intimately, that life’s big questions and challenges don’t ever seem to disappear or dissipate, just morph and, maybe, soften a little with time.
And church is almost necessarily intergenerational, my congregation in particular. We have toddlers and nonagenarians and everyone in between. For a tiny congregation, we’ve got some serious life-stage diversity, including college students and retirees and young adults and kiddos. A couple of weeks ago, ahead of a conversation together about a new documentary on Pauli Murray, who grew up here in Durham, our post-worship conversation was an incredible example of intergenerational learning. A couple of older people asked for help with using pronouns in ways that are inclusive and respectful, confessing that they wanted to get it right and practice hospitality and care, but that it was difficult to re-train their brains. A young adult piped in and gave a gracious, clear, succinct summary. People asked questions, we practiced together. Beautiful.
Recently, I’ve been struck by my new place in the line of generational succession. I don’t have children of my own, which is maybe how other people sense this shift, but I do know and love a lot of young people who are, as they say, coming into their own. In addition to my own grandparents dying and shifting the family dynamic, the young people are speaking up, asserting themselves, and *teaching* me things. So many things. I had the privilege of hosting a podcast episode of some folks who are calling themselves Young Adults on Fire a couple weeks ago, and if you care about the church, then you should listen. You should really just start listening to young people in general, wherever you are, whoever you’re close to, because they are sharp and wise and not willing to put up with any more of our bullshit. Thank God.
It’s a joy and a gift to know and love and learn from people who are both older and younger than I am. Those relationships expand my awareness and reassure me of my place in the family of things. I am a granddaughter without living grandparents, a nearly-middle-aged adult without children of my own, but I am nevertheless held firmly in place by these connections and conversations and friendships filled with grace.