By C.L. Harmon
I hear people sometimes say that it would have been nice to have had what kids have now when they were that age. This is not something I will ever say. Sure, there were a few times I had to walk a few miles down a highway after my car broke down because cell phones were not available. And I remember waiting four to six weeks for delivery of an item I ordered. I can also still feel the disappointment after waiting days to go to town, only to learn that the store didn’t have what I wanted to buy in stock. There are a million things that were not available to me back then, and there are just that many things kids today may never get to experience as well because progress isn’t always positive progress.
I remember a slap in the face for being disrespectful. I can recount doing yard work for my grandmother and being told I would not accept any money for it regardless of how many times it was offered. I can still feel the taste of warm Pepsi that was the community drink amongst my siblings and me. A bottle of pop for each of us would be unthinkable. The words, “You are lucky to get anything at all” still rings in my memories. And yet I would not trade places with any kids today who gets a 44 once of fountain fizz all to themselves.
I remember hauling firewood through the snow when I didn’t want to and then made to clean up the mess it made. During quiet moments alone, I can still almost hear the chaos at the dinner table with six, seven even eight people reaching in all directions. It was like an angry squid throwing a tantrum. Still, I would not trade those dinners for all the peaceful ones in the world.
There were times I was told to hold my tongue because I was speaking to an elder in an unacceptable tone. I can also still feel the hot sun on me from a hard days’ work with the only compensation …a hot dinner and a warm bed. To be paid was laughable at such times in my life. Money was not the objective; there was a lesson in that labor.
In fact, all of these remembrances were lessons of one sort or another. Walking along that highway was a lesson in faith. God knew I was there and it provided me the time to talk to Him and ask for help. It was an opportunity for someone else to be kind and offer me help with a ride home. It was also a lesson to fix things that I knew were problematic, so I would learn that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of regret.
In those days, there was always a lesson it seemed. Six weeks is a long time to wait for something that one desperately wants. But waiting in those days was a lesson in patience and learning to accept that things are not always in my control. This was a lesson that would have far-reaching benefits later in life. There was no Amazon to the rescue or overnight freight. I learned to be excited and then disappointed over and over after the mail did not provide the eagerly awaited parcel. Then I learned how to accept both with grace and restraint because I had no other choice.
There were also lessons in communicating and overcoming awkwardness; learning that when I wanted something or someone, I had to face my fear and go for it. I had to swallow that lump in my throat and talk to the girl I liked. I had to make her laugh and make her smile without anything but my personality and my sense of humor. I had to stand up for myself and speak out to those I felt wronged me. I had to learn to become an adult who could stand his ground and solve issues peacefully and respectfully. There was nothing to hide behind, no secret attacks in cyberspace with ugly texts and posts. There was only run and hide or stand and grow. I had to talk with others and learn what it means to be a friend and to have one. I had to learn to give of myself and forgive others to keep and nourish friendships. I learned that friendships mean something, that they have value beyond measure.
I grew up in the last generation before technology became what I call “modernology”. I have lived in both worlds and can see that progress can steal from us when we lose who we can be without it. Sure, help is only a cell call away now, but where is humanity’s opportunity to come forth on a dark highway when we are walking and hoping for help to come along? Where is the patience that teaches us to become disciplined and how to learn that life offers the best of things to those who wait…and this is something Amazon or overnight mail can’t ever deliver? Where is the enlightenment and spiritual growth which comes from doing for others without any expectation of something in return? And how do we learn that a willingness to do good comes back to us if we never give without expecting compensation? Can there ever be any value if we are given to without limits and without disappointment? And how does one understand the miracle of giving if they only give what they have plenty of to give or obtained easily? It’s only through sharing what there is little of and what is hard to come by that we learn the meaning of value.
And what of respect or lack thereof it? Respect is first taught, then learned and finally earned. It should sting when learning of it and it should stick because only then will it stay. It is the lifeblood of a civilized people and how we learn to be humble in ourselves and happy for others. Growing up in a time, place and family where it was required was a gift that still gains in value as the years pass. What is so interesting is that one never understands the value of it if they don’ possess it. Each time we pledge allegiance to the flag, we offer veterans and soldiers a form of respect. Each time we acknowledge the elderly and ask for advice, we are telling them that we understand they have wisdom and understanding to offer. Each time we obey orders and perform a task to the best of our abilities, we are telling those in positions above us that we acknowledge their authority. These are all forms of respect that we offer and teach so that others will forward it on. This is how it used to be.
I would never trade what I had then for what kids have today. With all the technology they have access to and the opportunities that increase as we move into the future, there is much that they will never have if they do not learn life’s important lessons first. Before “modernology” becomes a way of life, people must learn to live as though there is no technology. Learning to share, to go without, to wait, to show respect and to acknowledge others are life lessons that provide confidence, respect, humility, and self-worth. Siri may be able to tell you facts, but she, nor any other piece of technology, can teach you how to live a happy and productive life. For that, you have to put the phone down and talk to people.