Haims: A transformative life experience between generations
In 2000, I was living in Edwards with my friend Joe. I was in my mid-30s and my personal experiences of generations before me were limited to my grandparents. At a Y2K party Joe and I held, a friend brought me a book she just finished written by Tom Brokaw – “The Greatest Generation.”
It took some time for me to get through the book. But, when I did finish, I was left with sadness more than a sense of inspiration. While the stories in the book were educational, inspirational, and provided an insight to a world and time I knew little of, I realized I had lost the ability to learn personal stories as my grandparents had already passed.
My brothers and I were pretty close with both sets of grandparents. On my father’s side, my grandmother was a tough old broad. At barely 5 feet and a few inches, she was a force to reckon with.
In my formative childhood years, she would constantly quiz me on vocabulary, demand that I respect and appreciate my elders, and etiquette (Emily Post). God forbid my brothers and I ever reached across the table to grab a serving plate — our hands would be stabbed with a fork quicker than the blink of an eye. Leaving the table without asking permission to be excused never ended well. My father’s father was in the investment business and traveled the world. He’d bring pictures, toys, and tell stories of experiences with different cultures and different lifestyles.
My mom’s parents were incredible. They came from very nominal means, helped their parents in providing for their families, received formal schooling, and made it together through the Great Depression. With ending of Prohibition in 1933, my grandfather found a career path. After leaving Chicago and moving west to California, he found his way to owning liquor stores.
My grandmother was a fabulous cook and took great joy in filling the bellies of my family. Meals at their home was more than mealtime; it was “dining” with feet on the floor, hands in our lap, a fork properly in our right hand and knife in the left. It was family time where we laughed, ideas and aspiration were shared, and stories of our days were discussed.
The connection established between me and my grandparents is most likely why I wound up doing what I do. Work ethics, an appreciation for the value of a dollar, rewards of a hard day’s work, interest in the arts, a love for classical and jazz music (actually all music), and a respect and appreciation for elders were all taught by my grandparents.
Dubbed the Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, this generation of people born prior to 1924, and who lived through the turbulent times of the Great Depression, have much to teach us.
This past Sunday while watching CBS Sunday Morning, I learned of two millennials, Ellie Sachs and Matt Starr, who are not only interested in learning from our elders, but are also forging relationships with them and enriching their lives.
If you find the time, it may be worthwhile to check out CBS Sunday Morning to watch the episode. Ellie and Matt have done some extraordinary and inspirational work with our elder population.Based in New York, these two filmmakers embarked upon a project to remake Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s romantic comedy into a short film called “My Annie Hall.” However, they did this with a twist. They did not use Hollywood actors, nor did they use aspiring actors. Rather, they remade the movie with senior citizens from a nearby retirement home.
The project was inspired after Matt watched Casablanca with his grandmother. His grandmother had dementia and conversations with her were challenging. As they watched the movie, Matt found that he and his grandmother were reciting lines and acting out scenes together. Unexpectedly, he realized that he had established a connection with his grandmother that opened new opportunities for communication.
Encouraged from the success of the “My Annie Hall” project, Matt and Ellie have created a movie club for seniors called: The Long Distance Movie Club. With so many elders nationwide quarantined, the project could not have been timelier. Twice a week, Matt and Ellie use Zoom to watch movies with residents of two senior facilities. They have created a special and mutually beneficial relationship with the members of the movie club. They have breached generational differences and have created a forum where different generations listen to, learn from, and build respect for each other.
I hope that people in our local communities will be inspired by these two young people and think about how we all can develop meaningful relationships with our local seniors. If we can embrace opportunities to learn from each other, we can make great strides in combating isolation, depression, and maybe, even learn a thing or two.