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Still Learning After All These Years

The wisdom and spirit of her young neighbors inspires this writer

By Barbara Snow

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking at the National Press Club in 2018, quoted Robert Frost, "The older I get, the younger are my teachers." 

Maybe Madeleine and I have the same teachers. Dealing with COVID-19, and the results of the systemic racial disparities in our country, while watching our nation teetering on a tightrope between democracy and authoritarianism, it would be easy for me to slip into a feeling of despair that nothing will be right again.

Still Learning, Next Avenue

But here's where I luck out. I live in an elegant, slightly quirky, 80-year-old inner-city apartment complex in Minneapolis, made up of mostly young tenants, many of them recent college graduates. 

A lot of them are deeply in debt for their education and work multiple jobs, including maintenance and cleaning in our complex.

I've come to know most of these "youngsters," and while my first impulse was to share all 66 years of my life experiences and advice with them, I've quickly learned that they offer me much more wisdom if I just shut up and listen.

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For example: I've learned that those with the least to give, give the most. During the protests over the murder of George Floyd, I watched as they formed groups to keep tabs on what was happening in our neighborhood, stood watch through the night and then went out in the morning to help clean up the streets that were at the epicenter of the looting.

For example: I've learned that those with the least to give, give the most.

They continued to demonstrate their commitment to humanity throughout the summer by cooking and delivering much needed meals to the homeless encampments that sprung up in our parks as a result of the economic disaster that unfolded because of COVID-19. 

I've learned that a portfolio of investments means nothing to most of these young adults, but making enough tips from a waitressing job to help pay for food for someone else is an investment of inestimable worth.

I've watched them collect clothes, diapers and hygiene products to give away in the neighborhood. I'm lucky because my portfolio allows me to invest a little cash in their good work, which is a win-win for all of us.

I've learned that as disheartened as the news makes me some days, if I just go outside into our apartment courtyard and hang out for a while, I'm sure to feel a little better. Everyone was out there on the fine summer days, tending a garden plot or practicing the violin or working on a drawing. 

Their generosity of spirit and willingness to accept people of every age, creed, color or sexual identity gives me hope that despite the ugliness I see on all the news outlets, there is a spirit in the young that won't be broken by our fears, our prejudices or our acquired bad behaviors.

I've learned that I have nothing to teach them and every reason to follow their lead.

Telling Our Stories writer Barbara Snow
Barbara Snow is retired from financial services, a writer of essays and plays, and a temporarily grounded traveler who lives in Minneapolis, Minn. Of this essay, Barbara says, “I wanted to acknowledge the change in my life from leader to follower. I also wanted to acknowledge the importance of the voices and commitments of the younger generations, and if we elders just listen for a change, they have a lot they can teach us.” Read More
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