Wisdom is defined as 1) the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; 2) insight and common sense; and 3) good judgment. By the time this column is published, I will have had yet another birthday and let’s just say I have an AARP card in my wallet.

The gentleman who serves as the agent for my 401k account must have thought I needed to be reminded of my age. While sending me a letter offering me “very best wishes and the sincerest hope that I will be richly blessed throughout the coming year”, he also included a time capsule summary of the world on the day I was born. Old is defined as 1) having lived or existed for a relatively long time and 2) having or exhibiting the wisdom of age; maturity. I prefer the second definition.

There’s lots of 20th century history that separates my generation from the next. Apparently, I never realized that Harry Truman was president the year I was born. I only remember seeing Dwight D. Eisenhower and his vice-president John F. Kennedy in top hats and tails on their inauguration day on the little black and white television our family owned. Sent home from school early on a fateful Thursday in November 1963 following the assassination of John Kennedy, school officials didn’t have to wait for buses to arrive to take us home because we walked to and from school.

The drama of those times was not lost because we couldn’t watch the events on a big screen, high definition television. It was CBS anchor Walter Cronkite, in shades of black, white and gray, who delivered the news to us instead of a CNN Headline News anchor. Cronkite kept shaking his head in disbelief as he tried repeatedly to help the nation understand what had happened. We saw pictures of Lyndon Johnson taking the presidential oath on a plane bound for Washington while Jackie Kennedy, the country’s newly widowed First Lady, stood solemnly by his side still wearing a suit that was covered with her dead husband’s blood. We didn’t know that the color of her suit was pink until we saw the pictures published in Life magazine.

Witnessing that kind of history changes a person forever. It might have also been the moment when I first began to struggle with the ability to discern and judge what is true, right and lasting. Even though the television portrayed the world in black and white, my world was distinctly white and homogenous. By the mid-’60s, my friends and I developed a social conscience when the first black student at our school was introduced to our classroom. Soon we learned that her father had been to Washington in August 1963 to hear Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. After meeting her, we all began to dream a dream of solidarity. She taught us that there was indeed great injustice present in the world that our black and white television sets had somehow managed to overlook.

Communication consisted of one rotary telephone hooked up at our house, i.e., one where you dialed a phone number consisting of both letters and numbers. We wrote letters to each other that were mailed with a three-cent stamp. Today, I have a cell phone that not only allows me to get phone calls but also keeps my calendar, delivers my e-mail, and connects to the Internet. Movies were grand spectacles and gripping dramas created without the benefit of computer simulations and could only be seen by going to the theater where they were being shown.

Most amazing was the cost of living “back then”. Gasoline was $.27 a gallon, a car could be purchased for $1,800, the average price of a home was $16,000, and average income was $4,194 per year with the minimum wage set at $.75 per hour. My parents couldn’t afford to buy their first home until I was a teenager. Why is it then, that here today in the 21st Century with the enormous wealth our nation as amassed, there are still families who can’t afford the American dream of home ownership and many cannot even afford to operate a reliable vehicle?

Certainly, at this point in my life, there are still many more questions than answers. The wisdom I’ve gained over time, though, tells me that age isn’t about one’s outward appearance. What I’ve learned is that what really matters is what’s on the inside. I wouldn’t trade my history or my wisdom for anything and I have to say that I’ve adjusted quite well to 21st Century living. I have already been richly blessed and armed with my AARP card I will go forward and see what happens next.

Laurie Berkshire is executive director of Family Network. Her e-mail address is lberkshire@aol.com.

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