This column runs in celebration of my father’s 86th birthday.
I wonder when diversity stopped reaching up into the senior population. Diversity of experience should embrace layers of experience. Diversity of thought should include years of thought. In the dendrochronology of diversity, we stop counting the tree rings to include only fresh experience, it seems.
Soon I will be going down to the Holocaust Memorial in DC to meet with a survivor. It is not clear to me why more elders are not revered as survivors.
Last week I was in Paris at the Zenith, part of a large complex not unlike Lincoln Center in New York. I gazed down a twirled staircase that resembled the Guggenheim Museum spiral, and at the bottom sat a large group of older French people playing cards around a circular table.
The only thing it reminded me of was a similar scene I observed five years ago in a medieval walled city in Italy. A large group of older Italian women sat laughing aloud over small glasses of wine in a restaurant, leisurely, with authority.
Never have I observed such lavish abundance in America. And because I have many relatives in Florida, I have seen the older population in great numbers. I have sat on the balconies of Century Village, where men listen alone to the Yankees on real radios, wearing undershirts and drinking vodka out of a bottle kept under a round plastic table.
Why do we sequester our elders? Why do they show themselves in public only to celebrate grandchildren (acceptable) or on reservations such as Century Village (acceptable)? Why have we handpicked a few to showcase as worthy, driving busloads of kids to see them under glass cases?
Maybe, as George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham might say in Up In the Air, it is the weight of their backpacks. We revere the light backpack. The absence of baggage.
Yet consider this paradox: while we don’t want to see the past when we look at someone’s face, we do not respect the present, either.
In Paris last week I noticed this about the men’s faces: I could see them. They were looking in front of themselves, out into the world. They were not looking down at their Blackberries, unless they were young or American. When you look down, you look in. When you look out, well, you look out.
When we turn away from the past while simultaneously truncating the present we get emptiness. Lots of information, and not enough consideration. Insufficient presence.
When William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past,” he was right. Diversity of experience extends all the way back to this moment.
Diversity itself is becoming one of those words we don’t hear any more, like love. Love you, diversity you, call me, text me. In our inability to hear, we share a common thread with some of our elders. While time naturally filters their world, choice unnaturally filters ours.
Jesus caught a lot of fish in his net. Are we even casting ours? If we look at the word—inter/net—and we look at the world—and those we choose to include in it—let the net we cast be made of something other than ourselves, at the very least. Let it include all the fish in the sea.