The Hundred Year Perspective

“The little bit you and me might change the world,” Malloy smiled, “It wouldn’t show up until a hundred years after we were dead. We’d never see it, but it’d be there.”  James Jones, From Here to Eternity


I found these picture of my grandparents from 100 years ago. It reminded me how they survived their troubled times and what lessons can be taken from their experience.

In the top picture my grandpa (saluting) is standing next to my grandma with Lilly McElarney. Lilly was the last surviving member of the Easter Uprising that heralded the coming of the Irish Civil War.

In the bottom picture my grandfather is leaning on his touring car, standing next to Matt McElarney. My very young father is standing in the foreground.

These two immigrant families landed in America by virtue of necessity, not choice. They didn’t so much leave, but fled Ireland, in search of a new life. Coming to America was not one of many options. It was their only option. Indeed, Lilly was smuggled out on a tramp steamer as the British wanted to arrest her for treason.

History had dealt both families a difficult hand, but their story is in no way unique. At one time, it was the story of America.

Come to America! All Are Welcome! Opportunities Abound!

So my grandparents came, found their way to Seattle, raised a family, built a business and at the time of this picture, their future looked golden.

Then life abruptly changed. Their generation were dealt an almost impossible hand to play. First came the Great Depression, then the Second World War. They, like everyone else, were hit with unprecedented upheaval requiring an extraordinary will to survive.

As a kid, I heard how they survived:

  • Keep the family strong 
  • Everyone pull together 
  • Have a good time 

Grandpa never let us forget there had been harder times, much harder — the wretched potato famine, the starving families, the mass emigration.

And yet their bonds of family were never broken, even over the vast distances. Their hearts forever beat as one. 


I am the strength that was born of my weakness. I am the steadfastness that came out of my wavering. I am the joy of living that was born of my despair. I am the poise that was born of my great unrest. ~ Muriel Strode, My Little Book of Life


So when I stared deeply into that picture I imagined myself standing with my young grandson, Sam. I thought, how will Sam play the hand history has given his generation? The challenges on so many fronts are breathtaking in their scope and seriousness. 

It won’t be first time a generation has found itself engaged in a life and death struggle. It is a reoccurring story, isn’t it?

In 1940 the American novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, wrote in a letter to his daughter, Scottie:

Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.”

Ouch — a tough observation. But isn’t better that we find satisfaction from struggle rather than from phantasms?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in the Conduct of Life;

“The frost which kills the harvest of a year, saves the harvests of a century, by destroying the weevil or the locust. Wars, fires, plagues, break up immovable routine…Nature is upheld by antagonism. Passions, resistance, danger, are educators. We acquire the strength we have overcome.”

I reminded that Sam and his sisters will inherit a world divided, broken and challenged from inside and out. They will have much to overcome. But the world itself is the same; only their struggles will be different.

And they will be the source of their satisfaction.

I pray they remember:

  • Keep the family strong 
  • Everyone pull together 
  • Have a good time 


Just a thought…


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