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Generation Gap?

Sharing Stories

Gerrit Hansen | Jun 7, 2015, 7:37 p.m.
Gerrit with an older and younger companion in Indonesia.

At the age of nineteen, I moved away from home. Not far—just a 30-mile drive. After graduating from the University of Washington, I moved 10,000 miles to Indonesia where I spent the next twenty-six years of my life.

One of the most endearing aspects of those years in Indonesia was the lack of distance between generations. Toddlers, elementary schoolers, middle schoolers, high schoolers, college students, young professionals, married couples, parents of older children, grandparents, great-grandparents—everybody knew how to communicate because age was never considered a barrier. In every public place I saw multi-generation gatherings—not just among family members, but among neighbors and friends, too.

At social events, my wife and I were always amazed to watch a group of a dozen junior or senior high schoolers—especially college students—collect around a young child and amuse themselves by interacting with him or her, rather than separating themselves from the crowd and talking only among themselves.

If I went out in public, younger people often came up and talked. I’ll admit, part of it was because I was plainly from another country. But it wasn’t uncommon to sit down with a group of young people—whether children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, or college students—and simply talk, tell jokes, and have a good time. The wisdom and experience of the elders was eagerly sought by the younger. The “old” wasn’t just tossed aside because it was old. Young people knew they didn’t know everything, and they weren’t so wrapped up in their own worlds that they couldn’t break out and talk to older people. Of course, young people didn’t always want to sit down beside an elderly person who didn’t know when to stop talking, but even so, that talkative elderly person was still treated with dignity and respect.

Young people liked to take photos, but they often called older people to pose with them—not just as a token of respect, but also a statement: “You are valuable to me.” The photo below (2000) is one such instance—a Chinese grandmother, an eighteen-year-old Batak (ethnic group from North Sumatra), and me at thirty-eight. Three generations, three races. And, each of us wanted a copy of this photo.

In my novel, The Hold, this cultural strength is played out in the relationships between the main character and a handful of youths. You can read about it on my website, gerrithansen.com.

Since my family’s return to the Seattle area in 2012, I’ve talked to many adults that feel intimidated by our “worship-of-youth” culture. True, it is more difficult here, because age barriers are stronger, but I’ve found that even in urban areas, many young people still want to engage with adults. If the good Lord has allowed us 50, 60, 70, or even 80 years on this planet, it’s so that we can take our experience and pass it on to the next generation. Don’t be intimidated by the cultural standoffishness of youth toward adults that may seem overwhelming or insurmountable. Keep trying. It takes time. Engage in the community in whatever capacity you’re able. When you’ve found those with open hearts, engage. Nothing is more rewarding than being able to channel the gifts that come with experience to the next generation.

Bio: Gerrit Hansen returned to the Pacific Northwest in 2012 after having lived 26 years in Indonesia. He has several fantasy stories inspired by his time abroad on Amazon.com, including Fighting the System: 2984 Part One http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TA07ELY and Rebel Defiance: 2984 Part Two http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UPMNWP8.

SHARING STORIES is a weekly column for and about the 50 plus crowd living in the Puget Sound region. Send your stories and photos to ariele@comcast.net. Tell local or personal stories; discuss concerns around aging and other issues; share solutions, good luck, and reasons to celebrate; poems are fine too. Pieces may be edited or excerpted. We reserve the right to select among pieces. Photos are always a plus and a one-sentence bio is requested (where you live, maybe age or career, retired status, etc.).

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