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What matters

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By Ken Begley

Last week I put together an article where local elementary school youngsters ages seven to 13 asked questions that I put to local oldsters in their 90s. It was the largest column I ever put together, but it could have been several times that size. I spent about five hours relaying questions from these two totally different generations.

You know what?

I found talking with Mr. Hugh L. Gundy, Mrs. Mary Ann Hardin, and Mrs. Sadie Kate Leachman very calming and reassuring in the distressing times we live in.

Let me explain.

We, as a nation, don’t seem to value our oldest citizens. They tend to be forgotten relics of the past. What a shame. How much they can teach us all.

Our nation today is currently in an economic turmoil the likes of which we haven’t seen since the earliest days when our oldest citizens lived.

Our greatest financial institutions have failed and are being held up only with government handouts because they have no one else to turn to. These include many institutions that did weather The Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s.

Our greatest manufacturing companies are on the verge of failure. Who would have ever thought that Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford would become such sick, dying giants at the same time? Who would have thought even General Electric would have had the financial problems that they do today? There are countless others right beside them.

As a direct result, we’re seeing huge increases in unemployment. Even those who are employed often see involuntary cuts in hours worked reducing their pay and benefits. This, of course, means that their standard of living is squeezed and it’s a stretch to pay their bills. Sometimes it’s too much to bear.

The result is people losing their homes in astronomical numbers and defaulting on other debt. Those that don’t lose their homes are watching their home values drop along with their retirement plans.

These and other strains put on families many times lead to their breakup. These breakups lead to more strains on our society as a whole.

So why did talking to some people in their 90s calm me?

Because they have seen it all before, lived through it, and survived.

The thoughts they sent me were simple in nature, but powerful in their feelings.

One was that most of our troubles have come from wanting too much. It seemed to me that they were repeating over and over again that material things are not necessary for happiness. None seemed to really remember toys or possessions they had growing up. In fact, they didn’t have much of anything, yet were happy.

Instead, they most remembered the simple times spent with their families and friends.

Isn’t that so true? What if we all did simplify our lives so we could do more of that? What would be the result?

Here’s what I predict would happen when the kids who asked the questions last week, or your kids, reached their 90s.

Eighty years from now your kid won’t remember what expensive toys you gave them for Christmas. But they will remember that you used to always bake cookies on a cold night and play board games together.

Eighty years from now they won’t remember all the restaurants you took them out to. But they will remember the times you spent together eating a home-cooked meal and talking about what happened to them at school that day.

Eighty years from now they won’t remember the type of car you drove. But they will remember when you used to take them out riding on their bikes on lazy Sunday afternoons with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Eighty years from now they won’t remember every childhood tragedy they had to face. But they will remember how they could always come to you and talk about it. You were there to listen, and if not fix the situation, help them to learn to deal with it.

Eighty years from now they won’t remember everything they didn’t have, but everything that they did.

Eighty years from now they won’t remember how big and beautiful their house was, but how much it was filled with love.

Maybe then your kids could be like these people that they asked questions of.

Maybe they will say how much they treasured their youth and how they wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Maybe they will say how the most important thing in life you gave them was an ability to be happy with what they had and not with what they wanted.

Maybe they will tell someone the most important thing you gave them was a belief in God Almighty and not the almighty dollar.

Maybe.