After some consulting work, Ann and I stayed in Los Angeles for a September weekend to visit daughter Sally, partner Joe, and our two adorable grandchildren, Sasha and Jaden. Hot sun and big city, we revel in the diversity of people, options, and activities going on all around us. And we two island grannies, who live among trees and along beaches, are also a bit overwhelmed by billboards, traffic, street lights, crowds and shopping malls.
That Sunday, it turns out is “National Grandparents Day.” Wikipedia says this is a secular holiday passed into law in the US in 1978. The day is based in honoring the specific life work of several women who made profound, behind the scenes contributions to their communities, to the younger generations around them, and to recognizing the importance of elders in a healthy society. We can align with that.
Sally announces we can do whatever we want—the Getty Museum, Studio Tour, or Whale Watching out of Long Beach. Guess what we chose?
Hot sun, blue sparkling water, cool ocean breeze, and the possibility to see the world’s largest creature, the Blue Whale.
The haze of the mainland fell away. The wind blew. The waves gave us a prolonged roller coaster ride out to deeper waters… and there we met Bottle-nosed dolphins, 6-10 feet (2-4 meters) swimming alongside the catamaran, and not too far away the long plume of Blue Whale breath, and a prolonged roll of spine, spine, spine, as the great creature undulated through the sea.
And then—surprise—Humpback whales surround us—two, three, maybe four—hard to count. The captain pulled the engine way back. A Humpback rolled its torso visibly alongside the boat 50 feet away. Even Sasha, not quite four years old, got the scope of the creature and the significance of its swimming near us. Just a bit further out, a breech, a tale slap… the full Humpback show. We were thrilled.
And on the way back, the boat happened upon a school of Pacific white-sided dolphin— hundreds of them, playing in the wake of the boat. We hung over the railing, reveling in their presence, able to hear the high-pitch of their voices over the rumble of the engine and our own squeals of delight.
As Los Angeles came back into view, I sat with the children tucked around me and thought, “I do not want to be the grandmother who presides over the death of oceans; who has to explain to them that everything is dying; who faces their faces—and the faces of their generation with unending dire news.”
In the midst of all humanity’s crises—they were born trusting the hands of love that caught them. I was one pair of those hands and the responsibility I feel is huge.
How to best use my remaining years of eldering, is the question that haunts me day and night. It is the subtext to my daily activities. Meaningful and love-filled as I try to make my days, I feel the crumbling of the larger scale of things all around me. Even a glimpse into the news is overwhelming. And yet I can also find so much good happening—leaps in innovation and creativity, determination, healing, reclaiming. re-empowering ourselves.
I watch the dolphins spinning under our boat as we head back toward shore. Jaden calls out over our own shouts of delight, “Listen, listen, I can hear their voices!” High squeaks and clicks from water to air to ear to heart.
Whatever answer there is for me I know will come from the art of listening.