By Starre Vartan
Some of the most innovative ideas for the future are rooted in the past. Take the Mount Intergenerational Learning Center in Seattle. Within its walls, elderly people are teaching and spending time with preschool students.
But if it also seems odd, that’s because it’s not something you typically see in Western societies. These two groups of people tend to be almost completely isolated from each other, except maybe during holidays. Of course, that wasn’t always the case. When people lived in family groups — and in those places in the world where people still do — this was and is completely normal. And it makes sense, as both the very old and the very young seem to live at a slower, less focused, more in-the-moment state of being.
Here’s what the Mount Center says about its program: “Five days a week, the children and residents come together in a variety of planned activities such as music, dancing, art, lunch, storytelling or just visiting. These activities result in mutual benefits for both generations.”
In one of those moments of kismet, I happen to be reading Marge Piercy’s “Woman on the Edge of Time,” which is an influential feminist-utopian novel written in 1976. One of the characters from the year 2137 explains to a from-the-’70s visitor why the young children in their advanced society are being cared for by the very old: “We believe old people and children are kin. There’s more space at both ends of life. That closeness to birth and death makes makes a common concern with big questions and basic patterns. We think old people, because of their distance from the problems of their own growing up, hold more patience and can be quieter to hear what children want.”
Behind the project is Seattle University adjunct professor Evan Briggs. She told ABC News, that when the children and the residents come together there’s a “complete transformation in the presence of the children. Moments before the kids came in, sometimes the people seemed half alive, sometimes asleep. It was a depressing scene. As soon as the kids walked in for art or music or making sandwiches for the homeless or whatever the project that day was, the residents came alive.”
Like the quote from the book above, Briggs writes on her Kickstarter page that when she first saw what was happening at the Mount, she noticed: “…with neither past nor future in common, the relationships between the children and the residents exist entirely in the present. Despite the difference in their years, their entire sense of time seems more closely aligned.”
Hence the name, “Present Perfect,” for her documentary. It seems like this is an idea that might spread, an idea whose time has come — again.