A society without its elderly is a society cut off from its roots and its history. In our modern world, we have forgotten that our ancestors have a life experience to share. Since the dawn of time, we have relied on their knowledge and wisdom. They were part of everyday life.
We are at this historical turning point where we can no longer help but wonder about our society’s future and what we want to go towards. We have to position ourselves in consciousness. The reflections that follow do not judge our way of life. The comparison between before and today seeks above all to understand the evolution of the global movement of the last eighty years and see the practices or values that we could recycle to find solutions for the future. This month, therefore, it’s a discussion with my grandmother that I’m sharing.
You were born in France in the Paris region in 1943, at the end of World War II, from a modest family, you are almost 80 years old. Can you share with us your perspective on the period we are going through, in the light of your life experience?
What we are currently experiencing involves a radical change in our society. There is not only the pandemic, but also other factors that come into play and not the least, such as the overpopulation of the planet and the environmental crises. All of this leads us to reassess where we are. We feel that certain things must change.
During the war, we lived through a very difficult period: families were separated, fear of bombings, looting of houses, arrests, non-existent communications with those on the battlefield. All the work, children’s care, and the sustenance of those who were not sent to war relied on women’s shoulders. They realized that they could do the men’s tasks. This period marks the beginning of a new status for women within society. My mother had her driver’s license, which was very avant-garde for those times.
We were used to a life of hard work, without a lot of distractions. The conditions were very harsh, but it was a renaissance that awaited us, our country’s reconstruction, and the reunion with our loved ones. Everyone was keen to build a new world and do better: women have become emancipated, we have also discovered greater security.
Today’s world is a more complex challenge in a way because, in my day, we started from nothing. Today, the new generations have grown up in this world where everything is within arm’s reach and therefore taken for granted. They suddenly have to restrict themselves. This is why the COVID crisis is so violent for some. It’s not an easy position.
Do you remember this transition to the consumer life that we are experiencing today?
It was after the war that it all started. The war had opened up new perspectives. Americans gave us a taste of a different lifestyle. We went from extreme rigour after the war, to a period when everything was flourishing and becoming accessible. It was a form of liberation. At first, it was in reasonable proportions, but it continued to grow without limits. We didn’t say to ourselves, “Be careful, we can’t act like this forever or we’ll destroy the planet.” We didn’t know how to anticipate, we didn’t see the limit. We got caught up in our own momentum in spite of ourselves in a way.
Can you give concrete examples of the life before?
Well, for example, before, when you got married, you bought furniture that you were going to keep all your life. Today we buy, we sell, we throw away, and the quality is certainly not the same. It’s such a different mindset. It certainly puts stress on the environment, between the resources needed for manufacturing and then the waste that it produces when you throw away.
When I was little, I had a rag doll that was my only toy, so when we would play with my cousin, we would take sticks, clothespins and whatever we found around us. We had little, just what was needed, actually. In addition, everything was recycled: we made handkerchiefs or napkins. My mother would turn over her old coats to make mine. Grandpa and grandma were always dressed the same. When you see that nowadays people have overflowing cupboards, it is disproportionate. It is not a viable system in the long term.
I lived in a time when everything was useful, and so we didn’t throw anything away. We reused, we recycled. We had this culture of the value of things and the care to be given to them, which our modern world has forgotten along the way. At the same time, I think we are coming back to it, as we see through the ecological credo of “reuse, reduce, recycle”. This is exactly what we did before!
We have switched from an extreme simplicity in our lifestyles to a form of opulence that is no longer tolerable for our environment. There is a whole section of society that has fallen asleep in unconstrainedness. The pandemic confronts us with this reality of “limits”. We have lost control of life as it should be, that is, shared with animals, the community and respect for the environment around us.
The way of life is a state of mind. When we better understand the wars, the pandemics that existed in other times, certain situations in which people still live today in many countries of the world, it makes us humble. It reminds us of the chance we have to benefit from all these living facilities that we have in the countries of Europe or North America. When we understand, we stop asking for more, and on the contrary, we invest ourselves in bringing our stone to the edifice. We feel involved. And it is on this openness that the world of tomorrow will be built. Realize that real happiness is where we are, in simple things, like a walk in the forest.
Precisely, and nature in all of this?
The proximity to nature reminds us that everything is regulated by cycles that are in harmony with our environment. It is a sensitive subject in the Western world because we no longer listen to our nourishing land. We exhaust the planet. Humanity overexploits its resources while driving out the animal populations that are there, thus creating imbalances.
The earth has undergone many transformations, many mutations of species. But currently, the acceleration of these transformations is having an overwhelming and unprecedented impact on our daily lives (global warming, melting ice, rising oceans, degradation of coasts). It is very visible and obvious in places where you are in contact with nature.
Twenty years ago, we used to go to the beach with my grandchildren on the wild coasts of Normandy. They loved to play in a huge dune space which is now half-extinct and closed to the public in order to preserve the little area that remains. We observe the same phenomenon with the sea: they spent hours in the rocks at low tide observing anemones, fish, crabs, algae. Today, there is almost nothing left; the ecosystem is 90% gone. The species chain has lost its fine balance because humans wanted to modify it and, above all, exploit its wealth without measure and with great unconsciousness. I have been going to Normandy beaches since I was a child, and I see the very obvious degradation of the ecosystem over the years.
What do you see as solutions for tomorrow?
This opulence that characterizes the 21st century is disproportionate to our planet and its resources. We have to withdraw, which is difficult because it is easier to progress than to come back. After the war, we started from nothing, we had everything to recreate and gain. But today it is the opposite. We have to come back to find the right balance. It is always easier to move towards greater freedom than to think that we are going to have to reduce our expenses, our travel and live more modestly, knowing how to take advantage of what the Earth offers us while preserving it. It cannot be anything other than a world that is based on biological cycles, on our internal clock and that of the species, because the disharmony in which we live now shows us that to do otherwise is simply not viable. .
But be careful: when I say a “coming back,” I mean coming back to core values that we have forgotten along the way. As for the form it will take, the concrete space in which these values will be anchored, there is everything to build. It is not about trying to mimic the life we had before, but rather to move towards a harmonious balance where all living things and beings have the space to be without stepping on each others’ toes. Future generations can no longer afford to respect what surrounds us, whether it is for humans, animals and the ecosystem in general. There will be the building of a new world if we learn to protect our most precious possession, the Earth. Respect is the keystone of the world of tomorrow.
For those who are currently entering the last phase of their existence, like me, there is not much visibility for the future, but we can share our experience for new generations to build the world of tomorrow. It is inspiring to see young people questioning themselves and trying to return to nature and a reasoned way of life. They buy products from small producers, encourage the local economy, look for solutions and another model of life. They want something else. We are full of hope because our youth represent this change, the construction of a new world, and it is thanks to them that our planet will regain its sustainability.
“Normandy’s Nature” by Aude Vermont
“My mother had her driver’s license, which was very avant-garde for those times” by Mariette Raina
“An American GI in 1945” by Mariette Raina
“Those simple things that make everything… Mamou’s crepes” by Stéphane Desmeules
“Normandy’s wild landscape” by Mariette Raina
“The house of Saint Jean de la Rivière, Normandy” by Stéphane Desmeules
About the Author:
Mariette Raina joined the Never Apart Center team in 2016 as a monthly columnist. Her writing focuses on spirituality, art and environmental issues. Mariette has a master’s degree in Anthropology. She is also teaching yoga and photography that she approaches like self-reflective and introspective mediums.
Follow Mariette on Instagram.