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I recently read Water for Elephants by author Sara Gruen. Night is falling here, and I just have to ask.

  • It’s 9PM, do you know where your elders are?

I hope they’re not in the circus parking lot looking for their past. On the other hand, maybe it’s a better place than the other place  Jacob Jankowski, a man in his 90’s, the main character in Water for Elephants seemed to be running away from when he went walking that night. In the story, his family forgot about his weekly visit. He wandered off alone, away from the nursing home looking for familiar sights and sounds of his past in the circus.

What struck me most about the novel was not the love story which is making the movie famous, although that was surprising and beautiful, but the sensitive portrayal of human aging. We don’t understand aging very well. But while the US is in love with youth, I’m a little bit in love with age. As I child I spent a lot of time with my elders whenever I could and asked about their stories of the old times. It doesn’t take much persuasion to open that door. Rather than live among strangers, my grandmother came to live with us her last few years, which were my last few years of high school–and she gave to me in her own way, an education no one else could have provided.

When I think of all the things that come with surviving over time, they seem to far outweigh the charms of youth. I always say I won’t mind getting old, considering the alternative. The main things to love of youth are sweet innocence and beauty. With age these do not necessarily completely vanish, but we may also be blessed with knowledge, experience, sometimes wisdom–and a great catalog of memory. The treasures of family memory, what a bizarre and personal library they are just waiting to be discovered. Take some time to find them if you can.

Find your elders, ask them a question. You may find “the greatest show on earth” is actually at home.

The link to Sara’s wonderful story: http://www.amazon.com/Water-Elephants- Novel-Sara-Gruen/dp/1565124995