Monday column: Bridging the generation gap

Opinion Sunday 11/February/2024 17:35 PM
By: Saleh Al-Shaibany
Monday column: Bridging the generation gap

I could not help drawing a comparison between a group of elderly people and children when I was walking along a beach. There must have been half a dozen of senior citizens lying on the sand watching a group of children playing in the shallow water.

One of them then decided to get up and joined the children by kicking a ball around.  A minute later, the rest joined him and soon they were all chasing the same ball on the beach.

It was a spectacle of two different generations - the will-bes and the has-beens - in the same shallow water competing for the same ball. I was not alone but with a relative who was visiting from UK. He was also bemused with the scene and said to me. “It’s good to see the old fogies enjoying themselves.”

I smiled at his remark. There was an interesting observation there. He didn’t appear to have noticed the children but only the ‘old fogies’. Was this a casual remark or a cruel dismissal of a generation whose time seemed to come to an end?

I imagined the creaking sounds of the old bones with every action they were making in great contrast to the fluid movements of the youngsters. The tiny limbs of the children were in perfect harmony with the rest of their bodies. The hands and legs of the oldies were hanging like badly fitted handles on rusty hinges and their movements were laborious if not painful.

There was an age barrier between them of something over seventy years.

I remember an old neighbour years ago who always had a kind word for every child who passed him as he sat on the threshold of his house. He didn’t mind the noise and the hell-raising of the children in the neighbourhood. He just sat quietly and watched us scuffle on the dusty streets or play football. When other neighbours complained, he used to say to them, “Leave them alone. I would have joined them myself if I were not old.”

“Old fool” is what people of his own age used to call him because he refused to let the age barrier make him see children as a nuisance. We liked him for just being understanding of the ways of the children. Thinking back now, he knew it wouldn’t be that long before the children who played before him would be in his situation.

‘Enjoy your childhood,” he seemed to tell us then, “It’s not going to last forever.”

When one day he failed to turn up at his doorstep, we knew what had happened because we had been expecting it. He was old, we comforted ourselves, and he was supposed to die.

Children never associate death with the young but only with the old. They see themselves growing up. Death to them is far, years away and only old people die. And that bright day out on the beach, I could a scene of joy, perhaps not in great abundance, as I watched the ‘old fogies’ play ball with the children on that beach.  They seemed to say, “when the end comes rejoice, for the beginning was never a mistake.”

We now see many teenagers complain when they are faced with minor problems instead of shrugging and move on. They waste a lot of time and let many opportunities slip away. As they do, they rub the joy away, leaving deep marks in their young lives that will only get deeper as they age.  I now dare defy the phrase, “old is gold.” Perhaps it rhymes well but you don’t have to wait until you are long in the tooth to look for the glitter of life.