There’s no question that life-long friendships are jewels to be treasured, but some time ago, I was treated to a fresh perspective on the friend phenomenon.
While in Manhattan one day, I was invited to attend a program sponsored by the United Nations Committee on Ageing (yes, that’s how they spell aging), to listen to a discussion about the “myths and realities” of intergenerational friendships. The discussion was moderated by Donna Butts, the executive director of Generations United (www.gu.org), and Sara Peller, the associate director of DOROT N.Y.C. (www.dorotusa.org). For those who don’t know, DOROT is an organization founded by a group of Columbia University graduate students who identified homebound elderly New Yorkers and decided to visit these folks, delivering food and spending time in conversation. (Dorot is the Hebrew word for “generations.”)
The program focused on two sets of intergenerational friends who found each other through DOROT. One pair was a 25-year-old Israeli woman, a Yale graduate now working for a high-tech company; and a 90-year-old Indian woman, a first-generation American. The other set was a dapper, 81-year-old retired man who had recently lost his sight and 30-year-old woman from the Midwest who was now managing a restaurant in the city.
They talked easily about their friendships. The Indian woman confessed that she had become a “couch potato,” but since meeting the young techie, “my motivation has returned…I even got an iPad.” The young Yalie, meanwhile, learned a lot about Indian home-cooking—something an Ivy League education doesn’t teach you.
The retiree acknowledged how daunting it had been to lose his sight. “It was important to bring new people in my life,” he said, and age was not an issue. “I speak to everyone as if they were the same age.” What he came to realize, he added, “is how tremendously helpful it is to be with another interesting person.”
For her part, the restaurant manager noted that her learned friend “opened up new perspectives.” When he twosome now go for walks in his neighborhood, he often launches into the history of the blocks and buildings they pass. “It’s amazing to see the city through his eyes,” she said of the man whose words now vividly reveal what his eyes no longer can.
We’ve all read stories of successful “May-December” romances, but rarely do we hear about May-December friendships. Donna Butts of Generations United points out that despite today’s intense scrutiny of racial diversity, we blithely continue to “age-silo” our society.
Yet most Boomers are interested in much more than sharing experiences about “Pains, Pills and Passing,” she says. And Millenials, who already view cultural diversity as the norm, do not “age-filter” the world they way their parents do. What these DOROT friends taught me is that authentic friendship across multiple generations is not just a fanciful notion, but a real and rewarding opportunity.
So why not reward ourselves?
Share with me your thoughts about intergenerational friendships in your life.