By Rebecca Landry
Last summer I spent five weeks in Spain. Within a couple weeks of returning to U.S. soil, I was at my grandfather’s funeral. My whole family stood in a single file receiving line, filling half of the aisle of the beautiful church and saying “hello” and “thank you” to everyone who came to pay respects. Person after person filed into this church where my grandparents were married and now my grandfather is buried.
I felt delight and amazement as people told us how the patriarch of our family was a legacy within his community. People came who were taught by him in school, mentored by him at work, and friends with him for a lifetime. One said that my grandparents, who were both educators and administrators in the local school, had been “pillars of education” in their community. What a legacy to witness.
That depth and longevity of community is rare in a generation as mobile and self-seeking as mine. What a contrast it was to my own life—returning from my fourth time in Spain (where I have now developed friendships and community), after moving six hours away from home to go to college and later establishing myself in a city away from my family. This isn’t unusual for my generation, yet it is so different than what I experienced at the funeral of my grandfather. The celebration of his life was a picture of a life lived consistently in community but also consistently in a place. On one hand, our grandparents’ generation needs to understand what is behind this “wanderlust” and fractured living of us millennials. On the other hand, we need the grounding, wisdom, and community that our grandparents have.
The week after the funeral, I spent time with my grandmother. I told her that I wanted her help with a piece I was writing. I sat with her and asked about her perception of my generation. Her observations about my generation were similar. She noted that we have a sense of entitlement, we lack the foresight or desire to wait and plan, we want instant gratification, and we are relationally uncommitted. I agreed with her, and I know many other people my age would agree as well. I believe some of these characteristics stem from the information and mobility we are afforded.
So to all of my would-be grandparents, let’s talk. I would like you to understand our mobility and access to information. And I need you to help us learn what it means to live in a place and in community.
Our mobility and access to information has surpassed that of any generation before us. I chatted with another millennial while he edited photos in a coffee shop: “The older generation is incredibly wise, but we have the access to quickly become very smart—we have more access to technology and education,” he told me. “Education looks different; we are looking at different things and checking into other opportunities.”
My generation (speaking very generally) is certainly checking into other opportunities, and we have the desire to see the world, experience lots of things before settling down, and think outside the box of what things should look like. Because of this, we have a sort of overaccess to opportunity—and the mindset that we can (and should be able to) do whatever we think it is we were “destined” to do. The opportunities afforded to us are both life-giving and crippling. We have new opportunities to appreciate and learn from different cultures, to discover the ways that the Lord has uniquely wired us, and to love people in new and creative ways. I’ve seen beauty in my life from these opportunities—a deepening of trust in the Lord as I step into the unknown and begin things that I am incapable of handling on my own. I also have a longing for my heavenly home because my heart is restless for a home that I have not found on this earth.
However, the dark side of this opportunity is the danger of never being satisfied, always looking for the next thing. The pervasive attitude that we must take advantage of this mobility and squeeze every bit of adventure out of life can be paralyzing, anxiety producing, or lead us to jump from one thing to the next. Say hello to FOMO—the fear of missing out. That’s what we feel because we have too many choices. FOMO whispers, “If you do this thing, you’ll probably miss out on that thing. If you commit to this now, you might miss out on a better opportunity that comes up later.” So we don’t commit because the opportunities are absolutely endless, and the next best thing might be just around the corner. We never settle into something because the Internet tells us there is always something else to experience. These opportunities we have are wonderful only if we have the right attitude toward them. We need to be able to see them in perspective.
To all my would-be grandparents, let’s talk. We need you to understand the beauty of what we have sitting before us—many days it feels like the world has been set before us on a platter and we have the privilege of choosing from the delicacies offered. But for that privilege to be good and healthy, we need some grounding and perspective—you can offer that to us. Show us how good and beautiful and healthy it is to live our whole lives in one place, to work and raise children, to mentor and be mentored.
One millennial I spoke with commented on the communication between our generation and yours: “They have a misconception of how we deal with things. It would be more beneficial if they didn’t go off of generalizations and took the time to talk to us and ask questions about what we are dealing with.” More than ever we need your experience to balance and inform our experiences. We need you to talk to us, speak wisdom to us, understand us, and we need to listen and learn from your experiences. But this is not a unique need. That two-way communication and understanding is a human need that spans generations and experiences. Isn’t lack of genuine conversation and understanding the basis of all misunderstandings and bitterness, no matter the generation or life stage? We must take time to understand the joys, burdens, and perspectives of people, especially those who are different from us.
To all my would-be grandparents, let’s talk, because my generation needs to learn. We are different from you—we may act entitled, scared of commitment, and desire instant gratification. But please know that we need you. Understand us, but also give us access to you and your wisdom. Our mobility requires anchoring and our access to knowledge requires wisdom. Teach us about the value of depth of community, of living in one place, and sticking some roots into this world so that we are more than floating individuals. Show us the value of being married and buried in the same church. Talk to us as we go, because we need you, and many of us are ready to listen.
Rebecca Landry is a social worker who loves soaking in sunshine, speaking Spanish, and living in Lexington, Kentucky.