Handing Down the Future: What Will We Leave Them?
The knees of my old worn khakis are dark-wet from kneeling to pick while the long green pods still hold crystal drops from the morning’s brief shower. I lift two heavy buckets of green beans fresh from the garden onto the kitchen sink. Soon I will hear the hiss and rattle of the canner, the seal of completion on our gardening commitment, completed while the low sun still spreads cool shadows west across the pasture.
There is a deep satisfaction in this harvest. A gardener at such times claims the right and feels bound by the pleasant obligation to simply sit and savor the wholeness of the cycle now complete: seed to sprout, vine to fruit, and finally at last, from gathering bowl to pressure canner to Mason Jar to upstairs storage shelf.
And so with my part done, I sit on the front porch swing, the rural liturgy begun in April now complete. I look out across the brief, low-hanging valley fog of an August morning, aware suddenly of that it is humid–a summer feature we were pleased to do without for most of July. We’ll have it yet to bear before the high blue skies of September come. We’ll cope with less this year than our usual share of heat-suffering in this oddly moist, cool summer.
Goose Creek glints in the sun, its percussive babble timed to the frenzied chase of swallowtails black and yellow, silver and orange at the butterfly bush just beyond the banister–the noisome creek that, six years ago this month was silent as death. Feast and famine, drought and flood, and life goes on.
At satisfied moments like this when all seems well with the world, I think how fine it would be if I could only hand this day whole, this season, this time and place in my life like a runner’s baton to the next generation, our children and theirs, who will inherit this same soil from which they might gather beans, occasional moments of peace and their daily living; that they might know freedom from want and the pleasures of toil and of harvest from a landscape to which they truly and with gratitude belong: that is my hope.
I think a good bit more about what comes when I’m gone than I once did. I feel a bit like the soon-to-depart house guest who wants to blunt the disruption his short visit has had on his hosts: before he leaves, can he help clean up the clutter he’s caused, restock the groceries eaten from the pantry reserves, and set the house aright before the next guests arrive? It just seems like good manners to consider these things.
But by our sheer numbers and especially by the affluence and effluence of our living, I and my fellow guests here will leave the accommodations in a significantly less durable state of order when we move on than when we moved in just after the second World War.
Those future generations I wistfully imagined knowing the world of their day from my front porch won’t simply by default expect to maintain the status quo, nor can they be satisfied to pattern their lives after the appetites or error of our generation.
Our children’s children will have the new challenges of much, much more expensive energy costs in a very crowded world where disrupted weather patterns and climate shifts will prevail.
But they can still have honorable and meaningful lives. They can experience a good standard of living. But the standards, the scales by which we have measured the goodness of our lives, are going to have to be much different from the Baby Boomer expectations and entitlements that have been the norm for fifty years.
And strangely enough, as I consider what it might take to set things right, many of those new standards of how we must treat the earth and each other may be the old measures of right behavior that guided our grandparents’ lives: consider how you treat the least of your fellow men; bigger barns aren’t always better; it is more blessed to give; think of others more highly than yourselves; love your neighbor; be the servant of all; invest your talents, and be good stewards.
In the end, if we set our hearts and minds on the matter now, we can leave a legacy of improving health for earth’s people and creatures, the air and soil, forests and oceans–a transformation that can only come from a marriage of humility and wisdom with knowledge and ingenuity. I hope my great grandchildren on Goose Creek will look back and acknowledge this as their inheritance from my generation.