I miss my Opa.
A few years ago, my daughter Ellie had a school assignment for Remembrance Day to to write about someone she remembered that served in the armed forces. She wrote about her great-grandfather (Opa). Helping her write a few short sentences about his life made me realize just how little I knew about his story, specifically his time in the war.
Like most kids growing up, Opa’s life was only as significant as it pertained to me, to our games of chess, our bowling outings, our summer sleepovers, and the strong, loving, clenching hugs he gave.
Choosing a picture for Ellie’s project, I had to resist the oncoming tears so we could quickly finish the project.
In that moment, along with others over the last few years since his passing, I lamented the stories I didn’t take enough interest in to ask about; the wisdom that he has taken with him that I was too busy, too young, too self-absorbed, too naive to attempt to glean from him; not to mention my Oma (grandmother), my great-aunts and uncles no longer alive. That generation of my family survived a world war before travelling across the ocean in pursuit of a new life, and I lost the chance to know more of their incredible story.
As I’ve attended each of their funerals, the few obituary details and memories shared by family members create pangs of regret that I didn’t ask more questions.
In my reading of Jeremiah, he is nearly put to death because the priests, prophets and officials didn’t like his pronouncements of destruction when a few old guys come to save him. “Some of the elders of the land stepped forward and said to the entire assembly of people. . . . We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves” (Jeremiah 26:17-19). If it wasn’t for the wisdom of the elders who remembered what had happened in the past, who had experienced this similar situation before, Jeremiah would likely have not survived the day.
I have been thinking about how disconnected I am from the elders in my life: my wife’s two remaining grandmothers and the many elders in my congregation. They have stories to tell, wisdom to share, the kind that may prevent me from making deadly mistakes, or at least help me to make better and wiser choices.
Today’s culture tends to hallow whatever is new and recent and forgets the deep well of wisdom and experience in our elders, to our own detriment.
I know it’s not the New Year yet, but I think I need to make a resolution to start doing some gleaning; start asking more questions; start making space for the elders in my life to share their story and their wisdom; recognizing they have had more encounters with God, more struggles to learn from, more experiences like the ones I’m currently going through. They might just be the answers to my prayers.
Joshua Penfold (email@example.com) wishes he had more to remember.