I am convinced that grandchildren save the world. No matter how cynical, skeptical, and jaded we senior citizens become, our hearts still melt when a grandchild slips their hand in ours, places a kiss on our cheek, or squeaks out, “I love you, Pa!” This can generate a lot of “Aw, ain’t that sweet!” However, I think something deeper and more important is at work.
When we look into the eyes of our grandchildren, we who are about to leave this world, are forced to care about it. We realize we have stake in the future: in the environment and climate we leave behind, and in the culture and social order. Will we leave our grandchildren a world at peace or at war? Will we leave behind a just world where both rights and liberty are safe?
For people my age there are certainly reasons for apathy or despair. I lived through the social activism of the sixties and seventies, so I am amused by those playing the “woker than thou game.” I have seen years when Democrats defended the Soviet Union and Republicans demonized it, only to see Republicans defend Russia and Democrats declare Putin the devil. My generation has lived through Nixon’s Watergate and Bill Clinton’s affairs, so we have few reasons to trust leaders. We have many reasons to dismiss all politics as pointless and corrupt.
Even more discouraging is how lukewarm, compromised, and moribund the Western church has become. The culture has become more secular and young people have been leaving their faith—at least their churches—in droves. Those who remain are caught between factions of cultural compromise and political captivity. It is tempting to pay more attention to my prostate than prayer.
But our grandchildren can, or at least should, awaken us from despair and cynicism. It is, perhaps, one the reasons people my age vote in larger numbers than young adults. It may be the reason so many retirees have (almost) a second career as volunteers in local organizations and can be seen cleaning up roadsides and parks.
Of course, one need not have grandchildren to care about the future generations, but it certainly helps. I would argue that it helps civilization stay civil. It helps us resist the temptation to secure our retirement and let the world go to hell on skateboards. There are, of course, grandparents who essentially drop out and live for themselves. Some can be found at casinos pumping their retirement into slot machines. And certainly, the mobility of American society has made it easier to not think about grandchildren who may live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
But distance need not harden our hearts. During a visit to Dylan and Vanessa in Olathe, Kansas, my grand-daughter, Khloe, jumped into my arms and exclaimed, “Papa!” That is all it took to capture my heart forever. When my son Claude and his wife Katie brought their family from Illinois to Oregon for a visit, I got to see grandkids I had not been with much. As we went for walk around the neighborhood, Riyadh slipped his hand in mine. That was all it took. His trust moved me profoundly. I was not in that moment not just committed to him, but to the future.
Having grandchildren makes people more conservative, but in ways more fundamental than political. Grandparents have often lived long enough to identify what things in life are precious and ought to be conserved. This might be a river clean enough to swim in or a park safe enough play in. In our old age and even in our travels, whether we are liberal or conservative, we have arrived at a ragged patriotism that celebrates what is good about the country. Depending on the issue, grandparent activism may be liberal or conservative, but it is often more pragmatic than utopian. It seeks to preserve and conserve the common good.
Grandchildren save the world by softening and reviving the hearts of their grandparents. They move us to care about a future that is not ours. We are moved to leave behind a better world. They give us the strength to reject despair, and in their gentle eyes we rediscover a reason to hope. Grandkids give us another reason to persevere in doing good, loving justice, and walking humbly with our God. They save us—or at least me.