Lessons from the Greatest Generation: faith, family and friends

Mom and Dad were part of the Greatest Generation.  My brother and I are Baby Boomers.  My son and daughter are Generation X.  Today signals the final passing of the Greatest Generation in our family, but the lessons continue.  Who we are is dependent on who our parents were and from them we learned the keys to surviving in this 21st century and those keys come in the form of faith, family, and friends.


Faith, not family came first.  The testimony of Mom’s life can be found in the multitude of faces she touched.  They witnessed how faith coupled with her innate teaching ability could change a world.  When asked why she had to face breast cancer, her answer was “Why not me?”


Faith answers the mysteries of life.  Faith means letting go of control and trusting in what we do not fully understand.  Even in the communion liturgy, the mystery of faith is explained in one simple line:  Christ lived.  Christ died.  Christ will come again.


The mystery of life’s glories versus life’s tribulations is managed by one rule, the Golden Rule:  Love one another as you want to be loved.  Mom lived that rule outwardly, yet privately she was happiest at home with nature.


Dad’s faith was quieter in comparison to Mom’s, but the results were the same.  Dad’s passion for farming paled in comparison to his passion for people.  Dad loved people, and he exhibited a servant’s heart.  If someone asked, he did his best to help.  The trials farming handed him were extremely heart-wrenching, but few knew his troubles as compared to how he reached out to love others.


The Greatest Generation recognized the role faith plays in one’s daily life.  Faith provided the ground work for family.  Family for the greatest generation was defined as a lifetime responsibility, a lifetime commitment.  Certainly there were situations in which families were broken, but overall the Greatest Generation is characterized by God, family, and country.  This defined their lives through war, depression, and even social strife.


As the years passed since Mom’s death and Dad’s illness, the model of family they established has sustained our generation.  Parents’ grace given to their children is modeled after God’s grace–love undergirds all whether it is good or bad.  Unconditional love regardless of birth order, regardless of intelligence, regardless of behaviors, even regardless of choices.


Mom had intuitive skills that superseded her own education, and she knew, really knew what was running through our minds.  She knew when we were naughty or nice.  Dad simply expected you to be good.  If you weren’t, you never wanted to do it again–another life mystery.


Our parents taught us lessons that can never be written into formal curriculum units and delivered in daily lesson plans.  There is no textbook that could possibly translate all the rules, the rituals, the history, and the communication skills that provide young people the foundation for building a solid, indestructible life.


Family is not a unique concept, and much our understanding of the family unit is developed from the Judeo-Christian cultural standards.  Not one family is perfect;  perfection is strictly for God.  Yet family is the initial social structure to which each of us is born.  From there, our world expands as we step away from family and into society around us introducing us to friends.


Friends begin with a common bond, but for faith-based individuals, no person is beyond the possibility of friendship.  Mom had her strengths as a Christian that helped her reach out to others, to listen, to teach, to love one another.  Dad’s Christian strength was his love for his neighbor, his fellow man, woman, and child.  They modeled the Golden Rule especially in the manner in which they were community members.


This bond of friendship has provided life lines throughout Mom’s cancer battle and death, and it has been demonstrated over 20 years as Dad was trapped in a state of limbo, caught between life and death.  Friends have prayed, visited, checked on, and prayed some more for Dad.


Being a friend is work.  Being a friend is following God’s Golden Rule.  Friendship is a reward in our lifetime that sustains us through the life’s challenges, joins us in celebrations, and carries us through this lifetime.


Mom and Dad may both be beyond our physical reach, but they are with us.  We are responsible for living the lessons they taught and modeled.  There is no reason that their death should damage the foundations of faith, family and friends.  There is no reason to ask why they died, why they suffered, or why life lasted 20 years in limbo.


The gift of the ensuing generations to Mom and Dad is to live out their passions.  For baby boomers like my brother and myself and for generation X which includes my son and daughter, the true gifts that keeps on giving is to maintain family ties, to be stewards of this earth, and to teach our families their lessons of faith, family and friends.  This is living the Golden Rule and answering all the mysteries of life.

This reflection was written Sunday, December 8, 2013, after Dad’s death on December 3.  The 20 year saga of Dad’s encephalitis ended with his death at the Warrensburg Missouri Veterans Home.  Their care and love for Dad made the last 13 years manageable, maybe I should say bearable.  Thank you to them, thank you to God, my family, and my friends for all their love and support during this experience.  –Susan Annette Winter (McCrary) Smith

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