The Family Silver
What does it mean to honor our elders?
When I was twenty-six, a package arrived at my home accompanied by a note from my grandmother that simply read, "Take good care of this. It's very valuable." Inside the box was an object that, at first, did not seem like much. It was a rather small, somewhat tarnished, metal pitcher. Dented in several spots, it bore the marks of some tough tumbles. But on the pitcher's side was an inscription, indicating that it had been the prize for a sailing race in which my great-great grandfather had been a victor in 1901. On the bottom was an insignia I now know was the mark of a renowned silversmith. "Take good care of this," my grandmother had written, "It's very valuable."
It seems a bit strange now that my grandmother felt that she needed to give me that counsel—that I wouldn't automatically recognize the worth of what I held in my hands. But, if truth be told, I didn't fully at the time. I was living near Silicon Valley in the hey-day of the tech revolution. Kids in garages were founding businesses that were changing the world. That which really shaped the future, it seemed, was in the minds and hands of the young. America was a culture obsessed with the fresh-face, the new idea, the avant-garde. And in the midst of all this, a battered old pitcher and a grandmother's note seemed slightly tired and out of place.
It could seem even more so that way in American life today. We've become a society where the word "old" is often used as a synonym for "irrelevant." We're told that we must unlearn the rules of the old economy; we must develop new business models, new materials, and new technical skills; we must constantly upgrade or get left on the shelf. And there's some truth in that, of course. We know that all living ...
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Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church of Oak Brook in Oak Brook, Illinois.