Every May, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) leads the nation's observance of Older Americans Month (OAM). The 2022 theme is Age My Way, an opportunity for all of us to explore the many ways older adults can remain in and be involved with their communities. I cannot help but think of all the opportunities for intergenerational activities and relationships that are integral to age-friendly communities. Older people have so much to offer communities, but younger people from Gen Xers through Gen Zers and even young baby boomers need to engage in dialogue with older adults to recognize and learn from
the wisdom they have and the experiences that have shaped their life's journey.
I am reminded of the speech I recently heard my 13-year-old granddaughter deliver. In summary, the story goes like this. My granddaughter met a 98-year-old woman who is a holocaust survivor. The woman told her how she had been a young girl in Czechoslovakia, and she had a very happy childhood. Suddenly in 1939, when she was 15, German soldiers came to their home with guns and directed them onto a train that was so crowded they could barely move. At the end of her journey, her family was divided into two lines, with all but her and her brother going to a different line. She never saw her parents or other family members again. She spent the next two years in concentration camps until a man speaking English came into their camp one night. She said, "I must be dreaming," He said, "No, you are free." She was transported to Sweden and then to the United States, where she married and had children and grandchildren. When my granddaughter asked her what lessons she should take from their conversation, the woman said, "believing in God saved me. It was also incredibly important to learn many skills. Knowing how to knit saved my life as I made socks for the female SS officers. Knowing how to speak many different languages helped me survive in the camps because the officers needed someone to translate. I had everything, and then I had nothing. You must study and learn because no one can take that away from you. You can't take life for granted. Love and hug your family members. None of us had that."
I was struck by this conversation for many reasons. First, it was a history lesson from one of the last survivors of the holocaust to be able to deliver this lesson in person. But second, it was such a unique opportunity for a young woman to share time with someone 85 years older than her and hear values come to life in a way that only someone who has experience and wisdom gained from years of living can offer. In this case, it was a life that survived the horrors of being a holocaust survivor. This is just one example of the benefits of an intergenerational relationship. There are intergenerational households that benefit younger people. It is so important to find ways of bringing generations together if we are to reduce the stigma of aging and the bias of ageism. When young people have the opportunity to spend time with older adults, the "fear" of older adults who look or seem so different dissipates. More and more people are aging in the community and increasing the opportunities for young people to interact and learn from the wisdom they can share. Generations can all learn from each other.