Conflicting emotions as our elders wonder what kind of world they're leaving behind

Mike Christopherson
Mike Christopherson

It's a strange time to be old. 

If the logic behind that contention escapes you, spend some time talking to people in the twilight of their human existence on this planet about the current state of the human experience - and, yes, maybe even our very human existence - on this planet, and the deeper the topics become, the more you'll come to realize that the elderly people in our lives are particularly conflicted.

I've been spending a lot of time on the deck at the lake chatting about this and that with my parents, each approaching their mid-70s. But they’re not alone in possessing the twisting and turning and gut-wrenching, mind-troubling emotions at a time in their lives when most people would simply hope to be able to sit back and smile, awash in peace and serenity. There's satisfaction, of course, and pride over raising kids they're proud of. And there are the predictable joys of watching their grandchildren become young adults and start to make their way in the world.

There's pride, too, in the things they've done in their lives previously and in things they continue to do as they try to stay engaged and be a source of good and positivity in the world.

But it's the shortage of good and positivity in the world at this particular moment that has people much closer to the end of their time on Earth than the beginning displaying and expressing emotions that their predecessors in previous generations may not have felt.

Like apprehension and even fear. Not of dying, mind you, but of the world they will leave behind for their kids, their grandkids and even great-grandchildren and generations to come who have yet to be born.

They wonder ominously about what the climate will be like in the decades to come. Will their descendants struggle through more frequent and violent destructive and even deadly weather? How hot is it going to get? What will become of water, and drinkable water and its availability to everyone? What kind of stress will a climate continually moving toward extremes put on the lives of their loved ones they leave behind? How will they struggle? How will it all combine to adversely impact their lives?

Of course, climate change has been pushed to the back-burner of late. Our older friends and loved ones see what the COVID-19 pandemic is doing to the United States, and how our nation's response to the virus has been bungled in such reprehensible fashion. Yes, there are amazing, incredibly intelligent scientists who appear to be on track toward creating a COVID-19 vaccine faster than any vaccine in history, but with a changing climate and a more crowded planet, COVID-19 certainly won't be the last illness to wreak havoc on the entire globe and bring society to its knees. 

They see brutality in our streets and racial injustice and white-hot hate that gives even the most jaded, gristled cynic pause. And they see our nation’s leaders at the top openly cheering on one side.

They see the rich being richer than they’ve ever been, and at what cost to the middle class and far-from-rich who don’t necessarily strive to be considered wealthy, but just want a good, decent life, and find that less of an expectation or a slice of the American dream these days, but more like wishful thinking. Has a smaller sliver of this nation’s proverbial pie ever had more money and wielded more power and influence than at this moment? Given a perpetual free pass by our lawmakers, how could they not?

Our elders are feeling sad, frustrated, helpless, angry, and even a bit guilty.Could they have done more?Could they have done better? Did they stand on the sidelines too often when they should have taken action?Were they too passive?What price will their descendants pay for the things they’ve done, or not done?

Without a doubt, there’s bit of relief, too, even if it amounts to only a molecule of a hint of relief. They’ve lived their lives, they’ve raised their families and worked hard, and they’ve tried their best to do their best. But they see a future that rattles their equilibrium, and they’re not too terribly burdened by the realization that they won’t be around to see too much of it.