Short Story: A Conversation Across Generations

Warm sunlight streamed through the window as Abigail unpacked for a weekend visit with her godmother, Sylvi, before embarking on her freshman year of college. Drawn as always to the tranquil back porch that overlooked the garden, the two women, divided by a number of decades, settled comfortably into their favorite chairs. The aroma of freshly brewed tea and Sylvi’s buttery shortbread filled Abigail with a tinge of homesickness already. Soon, she would be thousands of miles away.

“Sylvi, tell me … what was it like for you at the university in the 70s?”

“Wild and exhilarating, Abigail. I was full of eagerness to take in as much as I could, so naturally, I was drawn to a kaleidoscope of ideas, from revolutions in science, astronomy, and psychology to existentialism.”

“Ever the inquisitive mind,” Abigail smiled. “I’m excited about what they have to offer at Earlham.”

“You’ve made an excellent choice,” Sylvi said.

Her goddaughter’s face softened.

“There are many stories from those days, Abigail, but two pivotal realizations reshaped my outlook. Would you care to hear them?

“Oh, I would.”

“Maybe your generation is quicker to catch on, but for me, they weren’t immediately apparent – it took years to understand their scope. Also, when you’re young, you’re easily influenced, though you’d swear otherwise.”

Abigail laughed.

“The first is that intelligence and discernment go hand-in-hand,” Sylvi said.

“Discernment?”

“It’s not enough to be smart. You need to recognize subtleties, to have wisdom and insight when evaluating situations.”

“By observing how things fit together?”

“That’s right, and by opening your awareness.”

“I can see how both are necessary, Sylvi … and the second?”

“The second is that some of the concepts in play at school had the effect of diminishing me rather than expanding my understanding of myself.”

“How so?” Abigail was curious. She hadn’t heard these pieces of wisdom from her parents or anybody else.

“Traditionally, academic thought positioned humans as a relatively minor presence within the vast and indifferent expanse of the cosmos – a fleeting shadow in boundless space – which unsettled me. That view was the norm then and perhaps still is?”

“I’ve come across it quite a bit, actually,” Abigail confirmed.

“Imagine,” continued Sylvi, “believing you’re a little nothing in this massive universe, that you don’t matter, that nobody cares – both humbling and terrifying. And, to be honest, it left me confused and painfully alone, even though I knew I wasn’t the only one who had this response.”

“People my age are unsure what to think,” Abigail remarked as she sipped her tea.

“But there was one saving grace in those early days.”

“Which was?” Abigail came back quickly.

“Music.”

“Ah … ”

“I was particularly drawn to Beethoven whose music spoke directly to my soul. His determination to dedicate himself wholly to his genius at great personal sacrifice and in spite of his deafness … the sublime music that came out of this epic struggle … This was his selfless gift to mankind. Whenever I listened to the Third Movement of the Ninth Symphony, hope returned. I felt immense gratitude to him ….”

Abigail was stirred by her godmother’s visible emotion.

“Abigail, this is the transformative power of art.”

They paused for a moment to follow the sound of Canadian geese, flying high above them, on their way south.

“Do you believe that Beauty can save the world, Sylvi?” Abigail wanted to know.

“Yes, I do, Abigail … the beauty of music saved me from slipping into despair.”

She went on, “And then weeks before graduating, I fell in love.”

“You were twenty-one?” Abigail asked.

“Yes, and that’s when everything changed dramatically. Those years of college philosophizing about separateness and smallness were overshadowed by lived experience. Falling in love is euphoric, magical … the intimacy touches every aspect of your being.”

“I can imagine how amazing it must be to feel so connected to someone.”

Sylvi’s calico cat sauntered over and stretched herself out between them with a contented purr.

“At the same time, the growing bond with the natural world that had long been a part of my life began to develop more profoundly, and nature became my sanctuary, my temple of healing when things did go wrong, which they do for everyone at one point or another.”

“That’s true,” nodded Abigail.

“My ecology studies had only underlined what I was already internalizing hiking in Jedediah, Yosemite, along the Lost Coast, every chance I could get, which was that organisms and their environments are interconnected in a complex web of relationships that include you, me, and every one of us. Fundamentally, we are always allied to all there is.”

“I felt a hint of that on our camping trips, Sylvi, but I couldn’t find words,” the younger woman revealed.

“Did you? Oh, that’s wonderful to hear.” They looked at each other tenderly, resting in that thought for a moment.

“So, the notion of me being a tiny dot? Well, it no longer held sway, and I gradually began to trust my own observations and intuition. I began to trust the life process.”

“Trust,” echoed Abigail. “I’m working on that.”

“It’s ongoing, Abigail. Your heart will guide you,” reassured Sylvi.

Drawn by a quiet rustle, they watched rabbits feeding on seeds left behind from the late summer harvest.

“Come to think of it – I’d forgotten about this – my college roommate unwittingly helped me, too … shall I continue?”

“Please do, Sylvi. I find this conversation really interesting. Your college roommate?” Abigail was curious.

“She loved old movies, and happy endings. Little House on the Prairie, programs like that. One December evening, before going home for our winter break, she invited me to watch It’s A Wonderful Life with James Stewart and Donna Reed – you’ve seen it, I’m sure.”

“As a kid. I vaguely remember the story, but go on.”

“George Bailey’s metamorphosis struck a chord. Feeling trapped in his provincial life, he contemplated ending it all. However, an angel named Clarence intervened, guiding George through his hometown on Christmas Eve and revealing a world where George never existed. Through several shocking encounters, George understood the real significance of his life and how his acts of kindness, generosity, and selflessness had enriched his community.”

“One person inspiring a ripple effect of goodness…” said Abigail looking out beyond the trees.

“Illuminated by the brilliance of Frank Capra’s direction … After pondering this truth for days afterward, my existential angst lifted.”

“I need to see that film again,” she whispered to herself.

“Likewise, you, Abigail, are important and loved, and you matter – never let anyone convince you into believing otherwise.”

A look of deep affection passed between them.

“Fully comprehending this will be your anchor when people criticize or belittle you. And there will be those attempts … Let this belief – this knowing – help you rise above uncertainty. And trust. Most of all, Abigail, learn to trust.”

Thank you for reading!

Viktoria sends out a monthly inspirational poem to a community of close friends. Should you wish to receive it, please email her at viktoriavidali@gmail.com.

If you like to read short stories, check out SHORT STORY: A MOTHER’S DUTY.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Is there a young woman in your life who you have influenced in a positive way? What about a young man? In what ways have your education years changed your way of thinking? Do you still remember that time? How can your wisdom benefit the younger generation?

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