Crossing the River

There is a story about a mother bird preparing her youngsters to leave the nest and begin independent lives in a new territory. This brave new world lies on the other side of a great river, a river too wide for the nestlings to cross on their own.

Mother bird takes the first chick on her back and begins to carry him to the other side. Halfway across she asks a question: “When I am too old and feeble to fly, will you carry me across the river?” He answered, “Of course I will, mother!” Hearing this, the mother bird immediately dumped him into the river.

She returned and scooped up the second chick. “When I am too old and feeble to fly,” she asked, “will you carry me across the river?” The daughter gave the same response as her brother: “Of course I will, mother!” And like her brother, this youngling was dropped to the waters below. 

Gathering up the last of her offspring, the mother bird began flying across the river and again asked the question: “When I am too old and feeble to fly, will you carry me across the river?” He did not answer immediately, but finally said, “No, mother, I will not. But I will carry my children across the river.” Mother bird flew her son safely across the wide waters, knowing that the future was in tact.

Upon first hearing this story, I thought it cruel. What mother would deliberately cast her unready youngsters out, abandoning them to whatever fate they could manage? What parent would punish her children because of compassion? Then I realized, like two of those little birds, I had missed the point. I too was in danger of getting plunked in the river. 

You see, the future isn’t about me – not anymore – for my living years that remain are fewer than the years I’ve seen pass. No, I don’t want my children to place my gravestone on order just yet (Boys, please read that line again!), but I don’t want them trying to drag me into a tomorrow that doesn’t belong to me. It’s their future now, as it was once mine. I want them to go live it, and in doing so, provide a future for their own children.

I think much of our current dysfunctions comes from failing to accept the truth of the future: The truth is, we will not occupy the future. So, with an air of braggadocio we rail and frail against Millennials, Centennials, Generations Y, Z, and whoever else follows. But we aren’t really afraid to leave the future in their hands – we’re just so damned jealous because we won’t be here to impose our will.

Thus, make your decision today, while it is still called today: Demand that the generations to come live their lives making you the center of attention; or help them get across the river, so that they can do the same for those who will one day follow them.