"Troy went into debt and bought his new equipment because he didn't want to be held back by demanding circumstances…He was young and strong and ambitious. He wanted to be a star…When it came time to plan for next year wishing them to be friends and eventual partners before Athey would die and Troy would become the farm's farmer Athey walked Troy over the sod ground that was to be broken for row crops showing him the outlines of the plowlands and where the backfurrows were to run…Such knowledge ought to have passed from Athey to Troy as a matter of course in the process of daily work and talk. And it would have if Troy had been willing to have Athey as a teacher let alone a friend…Troy wanted to go in his own direction-or so he thought ” poor fellow. Troy was twenty-three years old and Athey sixty-seven."
American writer Wendell Berry wrote these words in the novel Jayber Crow as part of describing the relationship of an older man teaching his new son-in-law the family business ” which happened to be his Kentucky farm.
I thought about them as I looked around the room at the recent Gathering conference and realized what it means to have so many young people this year – more than 80 participants under the age of 40. And that doesn't include the 50+ kids ages 3-18 we welcomed in the GenNext “camp” we had at The Gathering this year.
Well what does it mean? It means that instead of young people setting out in life being surrounded by others pursuing wealth for its own sake ” they are exposed to scores of examples of mature (the word you use when you reach my age) and dedicated givers who have kept themselves from avarice by being generous.
I was with a young man yesterday afternoon who looked around at the pictures in the office and commented ” “You seem to have a lot of friends who are older. Why is that?” I told him that was intentional as I wanted to be with people who had become in some way what I wanted to be later in life.
As a kid I wanted to be with people just like me but somewhere in my 30s I realized the value and the genuine pleasure of being with those who were decades older than me. All of them had dealt with avarice and not only the desire for money. It was ambition for reputation influence ” power and position. All of them were open about their successes and failures. All of them became powerful examples – not just instructors.
Maybe that is what we need more than anything now. That is what Wendell Berry said in an interview with Bill Moyers recently. What we need more than anything is good examples – not big solutions.
So if you are in your 30s I encourage you to look for older people you think have become examples – not necessarily paragons. If you are like me in your 60s or older ” then be conscious of the power (and responsibility) you have in being an example – not someone with all the right answers or without any more questions for yourself but someone who is open to simply telling your story.
I cannot imagine what my life would be like without those who like Athey walked the farm with me and encouraged me to have a story worth telling.