I didn’t hear the phone ring yesterday morning. My husband took the call from a neighbor whose elderly husband fell ill in Istanbul and struggles to recover Chicago. They were childhood sweethearts who attended the Orrington School Centennial last fall to recollect and to sing the school fight song Bill composed as a child:
Bill’s wife called not to ask for a ride to the hospital or to borrow some milk for morning coffee. She called to find someone to use their 50 yard line Northwestern football tickets. More traumatizing to her generation than the suffering of one loved individual is the inability to uphold duties to the broader community. You don’t let the team down. Ever. Not even if you are bedridden in hospital. You make sure the seats are filled and someone can replace your voice among the cheers that support the team.
This was not my first exposure to the phenomenon. I serve on the board of The Alumnae of Northwestern University. A year ago an email went out from a fellow board member. A dear friend was in the hospital and his foremost concern was finding people to use his stupendous football tickets. Then too I served as a conduit to get what the Brits would call “bums in seats” and ensure that cries of “GO U NU!” would not falter in the absence of an ailing but devoted fan.
While these senior citizens may pull Republican ballots in November, none of them indulges in the arrogance captured in Mitt Romney’s derision of the 47%. They understand at a fundamental level that none of us is self-sufficient – neither the bulky, brilliant offensive backs on Northwestern’s football team nor the frail, forgetful Northwestern fans in their hospital beds.
The best lessons I learned as an undergraduate came in a nursing home and a tutoring center. When I had a final advising session with a Northwestern senior about to join the Obama campaign in Florida, I encouraged him to see his time among the nations elderly electorate as a short course in the human experience. The young and their elders need support equal in extent although different in kind. The aged have proved their devotion to the common weal – their good citizenship.
Coming of age ought indicate the acknowledgement of what one owes as well as what one has to give. The blinders of cultural and financial capital that block Mr. Romney’s view of the 47% will fall from his face when he truly comes of age – even if that fails to happen until every last hair on his perfectly coiffed head turns grey.