This morning I was invited to take a walk with three senior citizens. Every morning at 7:45 on Monday-Friday Robert, Gifford, and Li casually pace around their neighborhood talking about everything that goes on in the world. They stop for coffee at Robert’s house and then continue walking and talking. I was asked to come along because I had called Robert during one of my phone banking rituals to learn more about the community. He said that I should come and join him on his walks to properly discuss southeast Ohio politics. I couldn’t help but take him up on his offer.
What I experienced was something much more. Robert lived through the Great Depression, was a history professor at many colleges in Ohio, has a PhD in Education Administration, and was a superintendant at several school districts across the country before he retired. Gifford was a Cornell grad!, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was taken as a prisoner of war in that battle, and during that time met Kurt Vonnegut. He saw the firebombing of Dresden and wrote letters about his life while a POW. He also has a degree in International Relations and was chair of African studies at Ohio University. Now he is a professor emeritus. Li fled China before World War II, intended to go back but never did because it became a communist country, and made a life for himself in America. He was an engineer, but now is retired. I can’t imagine a more respected trio of people, a group so knowledgeable yet down to earth and “cute” in that “old person” way. We talked about the consequences of unfunded mandates, Barack Obama’s experience, what leadership means, the troubles in the world today, the similarities of life before the Great Depression and its characteristics today, and history (my favorite part of the meeting). Forget about the politics the best part was talking to people who lived the history I was taught. There is nothing better than discussing the Great Depression with a person who’s father was a flower farmer in southern Ohio during that time and chatting casually about the Battle of the Bulge with a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge! These are the experiences that make this fellowship priceless. It provides the much needed refreshment from the ignorance, racism, and self-centeredness that’s otherwise encountered.