The past few days, social media has been filled with images of punching Nazis and toppling statues. A few months ago when white nationalist Richard Spencer was punched in the face by the anonymous man, people cheered. Memes exploded. Folks found it satisfying to see a white supremacist shocked by a punch in the face. It was enjoyable for many to see his disbelief and disorientation, to see him stumble off down the street. Two days ago, a crowd toppled a 1920s-era statue honoring Confederate soldiers in Durham, North Carolina. People cheered as the statue fell to the ground and crumpled. I absolutely understand the impulse to celebrate these actions. But they also concern me.
Such dramatic actions, while they gain media attention and provoke conversation, are meaningless if they are not accompanied by a commitment to do the much less sexy work of community organizing, educating, learning, working side by side with difficult people, constantly checking our egos, staying up night after night trying to figure out strategy, keeping hope alive in the face of hopelessness, and staying the course year after year, decade after decade. All while trying to find a balance that includes family and our own health. This kind of commitment, carried out in homes, in hole-in-the-wall meeting places, in parks, and in churches, doesn’t usually make the news. This invisibility and lack of recognition is just part of the long-term work.
I would gladly trade the glorious moment of punching a Nazi or toppling a statue that commemorates hate for working with a generation of young people committed to the invisible and thankless work of creating a new world. I’m blessed to know and work alongside many such young people.*
The young people I am honored to work with inspire me and they teach me. They take on the tasks that my declining energy makes it more difficult for me to take on. And, they don’t judge me when I’m too tired or spacey or forgetful to be very effective. They facilitate meetings in ways that are respectful and kind and promote our listening to each other. They use technology eloquently and expertly to tell the stories of elders in our community. They organize block walks and then they walk house to house to ask for support. They makes lists and spreadsheets and keep us organized. They write countless FB posts and emails. They make us laugh. And they do all of this while working full-time and going to school and raising children.
They give me hope. As I continue moving forward in my sixties, after more than four decades of working in community, and as I try to understand and navigate aging, such hope is essential for my own survival. I knew as a young person that the elders and their experience and knowledge were critical to how I lived my life. Now I also know that the young people and their energy and brilliance are vital to my life as an elder.
Thank you to the young people in my life for everything.
* FYI, pretty much anyone under 40 now counts as a “young person” for me. When I was in my late 50’s, my 90+ year old neighbor called me her “young one.”