I had the great privilege to sit and listen to words of remembrance about ten residents at a senior’s home who had died in the last few months. Like many of these facilities who hold such services there were hymns, prayers, a short sermon by me, and a few paragraphs about each one of the residents whose loved ones were present for the occasion. At the conclusion of each tribute a family member would come forward and place a flower in a vase. My favorite part of these occasions is hearing how the loved ones remember their dear wife, husband, mother, father, or grandparent.
These women and men were all in their 90’s when they died. That means they grew up and lived through the depression, the war and the rebuilding of the western world. These events had a profound effect on this generation, it made them resilient, committed to work on every cause they believed in, accumulators of things as you cannot money in a bank to last, and believers in institutions like church, fraternal orders, political parties and organizations that fostered a connection to their ethnic heritage. In many of these tributes there were references to many, many years of service to these various groups, often including titles they were given as they worked their way up the hierarchy.
For me as a Minister one of the saddest moments comes when I meet persons from this generation who are witnessing the decline, and in many cases closure, of their church, lodge or legion. They will look at me and lament, “I worked so many years for them, my parents poured themselves into that place, and for what? How could they (present generation) just let it go?” This generation did not need praise or affirmation. They did not expect to be thanked, they did this work because it was necessary and it was expected. Their reward was the enduring value of the institution with whom they so closely identified. But now that these institutions are closing at such a rapid pace these seniors are filled with a sense of betrayal and bewilderment. This is NOT how they were told it would be.
And then there are the baby boomers, who came after their parents’ generation of the depression, war and the building of Canada. This generation worked equally as hard and benefitted from better times, increased wages and standards of living, the decline of the toxic forces of racism, sexism and religious intolerance. But their work was fueled less by necessity and social conformity and more from material ambition and affirmation. The institutions that endured and thrived in this generation have been those that named, thanked and honoured its participants.
One day in the not-so-distant future there will be tributes paid to baby boomers and they will include words like amazing, awesome and tremendous. And instead of just words I predict there will be images, pictures of the deceased when they were youthful and beautiful and handsome with declarations like “we will never, ever forget you.”
As I listened to the tributes that day and thought of my own generation and what we might expect I wondered what really does last and what really is the legacy of our life’s work. I believe where we can point to places and people that were changed by our presence and efforts we can see a lasting legacy. We don’t have to cure cancer or have a building named after us to be remembered or feel our life has made a difference. Where we made a difference we were the difference.
So institutions come and go, praise is as fickle as the weather but the difference we’ve made endures and is carried forward as a lasting legacy of what our existence is really all about.