When I see older folks milling around in the church commons or seated at the end of the bar I often find myself wishing that there was some reservoir of 1’s and 0’s that held the stories from their generation.
Tweets from young men with yellow jaundiced skin stationed in the South Pacific. Instagrams of sorority girls coming home from college to find their iceboxes replaced with refrigerators. Facebook rants about fire and brimstone preachers who forbid the church kids from going to the pool halls.
Their lives before they got tired and sore. When they were young and petulant. When they dressed in the latest fashion and stayed out all night.
But it usually feels like prying or the conversation naturally passes to something else and I’ve missed my opportunity.
If our elders had spent the majority of their lives in the 21st Century, I could strike up a friendship with them the same way I do with most of the interesting or curious or said-something-funny-enough-to-stand-out people I meet throughout my day.
By passively hanging out with them online.
When I say passively hanging out I mean somewhere between a 1 am Facebook stalking session and directly chatting with them. It’s a sort of wait-and-see approach to modern friendship.
I meet someone worth looking into and then friend them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter and just passively consume their data. If I see them post something I’m interested in, I’ll toss up a like or maybe a short comment to let them know that we are passively becoming better friends.
Then the next time I see them our passive friendship will have reaped a harvest of information that often blossoms into an active friendship.
As in hanging out and talking.
But that’s not how it works with that generation. I learned my lesson with Margret.
For three years I stood in the church lobby on Sunday morning and watched Margret’s large baby blue sedan pull up over the curb in front of the church. People would move aside as the vehicle slowly lumbered down the walk way and eventually stopped three feet from the front door. Then a tall man in khakis would climb out of the driver’s side door, walk to the passenger side and offer his hand.
Margret would pull herself up out of the car holding onto his hand then make her way into church gripping her red aluminum walker.
As she slowly made her way past me she would stop to firmly shake my hand and give me a serious smile. It was serious enough that I never asked her why she felt entitled to get dropped off on the sidewalk.
I also thought it was strange that no one ever said a word about it. Every one else in walkers parked in handicapped spots and made their way across the parking lot.
For some reason Margret was allowed to get dropped off wherever she felt like.
Now if Margret had lived the majority of her life in the 21th Century I would have known how to get the information I was looking for, but there was no way to passively hang out with Margret. I would need to get information another way.
But most of the time I’m too busy and folks like Margret seem too pre-occupied to sit and talk. Really talk. Like for hours over a pot and a half of coffee. The way people do when they are telling stories across time and space.
I missed my chance with Margret.
One Sunday the blue sedan stopped coming. At church I overheard a couple talking about how Margret had fallen and passed away a few days later. I decided to go to the funeral. I wanted to hear the legacy of the woman who drove to the front door of the church.
It was a crisp winter afternoon and the church was full. Our pastor stood in front with a long white robe and a collar as the large sanctuary waited for him to say something equal to the day.
He opened with the line, “Margret was a force to be reckoned with.” The grey-haired congregants let out a relieved laugh, as if he said what everyone was thinking.
Then the pastor told the story of how Margret had been the first woman elected to the church council. How Margret had endured every stripe of female and theological platitude from the men and “many of the women of the congregation.” But Margret didn’t care. She held her head up high and said what was on her mind. I looked around the room and wondered how many of the people in that room how been against her sitting on the all-male council.
It was hard to imagine our church insulting women in leadership. Our church now had a female minister and over half of the church council were women including the congregational president. I had never once heard a single complaint – theological or otherwise – about women being unfit to serve in church leadership.
I had never stopped to think about why this was.
I just took it for granted.
But the women of Margret’s generation did not take it for granted. And I imagine that’s why no one made a peep when Margret blocked the church door with her baby blue sedan every Sunday.
Now if Margret had lived the majority of her life in 21st century I would probably have known this about her. I imagine I would have been able to track down an Instagram selfie of her in a pencil skirt and cat eye glasses at the first council meeting saying #FirstCouncilLady.
I have thought a lot about Margret since her car stopped blocking the church doors. I have thought about how amazing it would have been to have Margret come speak to the girls in our youth group about being the first church council woman. To remind these young women that someone fought for their rights.
But I was so busy photocopying Sunday School lessons I never made time to really find out about Margret.
If we are going to learn the stories of Margret’s generation we are going to have to work a little harder than we are used to. We can’t passively hang out with their Facebook timelines. And unless they are our grandparents, we probably aren’t going to run into them at a party and strike up a casual conversation.
We are going to have to do it the old fashioned way. Getting up the courage to ask them out for coffee. And not just once. Many, many cups of coffee.
There is a great harvest of stories that are dying with Margret’s generation. Stories that have something profound to tell us about how long and wide the 20th Century really was.
Let’s not wait to figure this out at their funeral.