After the David Suzuki event, I was excited to read his newest book Letters to My Grandchildren. The author had enticed the audience with reading certain selections and the remainder of the book did not disappoint. What a beautiful legacy that he has left for his grandchildren who will be able to ‘hear his words’ in print even after he is gone.
“Elders fill a critical role as the keepers of history, tradition, practical knowledge and wisdom, and so they are treated with great respect and love…I am overwhelmed by the responsibility that this brings…I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in my life and I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes and a few successes and those lessons should be passed on.”
The book is divided into 19 chapters – 12 dedicated to specific topics that Suzuki deems important to share, 6 which are letters devoted to each of his 6 grandchildren and a last chapter of final words which encourage the reader to pause and reflect. The importance of family and the environment are clear with each chapter and each letter. He takes his role as an elder seriously imparting life lessons that he had experienced. He clearly appreciates the relationships with his wife and ex-wife who helped raise his 5 children. He loves, respects and admires his children and their partners who are guiding his 6 grandchildren. He shares his love for the grandchildren, each unique in their own way through the individual letters he has published for each of them.
Suzuki began speaking about his Japanese heritage and roots. As shared in the evening with David Suzuki, he has a rich heritage and his family experienced racism and mistreatment during and after WWII. He notes “if we witness an act of discrimination but do not speak up or intervene, then we tacitly support it.” His grand children have rich and blended heritage including Japanese, Chilean and First Nations roots so he speaks of racism with hopes that his grandchildren will speak out against racism and bigotry.
Living in poverty during and after the war, the Suzuki family understood the importance of sharing and community. He had learned from his father’s generosity which had established “a network of people who were often just as generous in return” creating community. The family was self-sufficient, catching fish, growing vegetables and working long days in the fields doing piece work to make money for the family. The values learned during the Great Depression helped the family appreciate each other and the world we live in rather than striving for more things!
Suzuki spoke about the importance of sports – “vital lessons about getting along with others, cooperating, and working together towards a goal” which help to unify and lead to a healthy mind and body. He spoke of fun and exercise noting that “at my age, exercising is the best preventive medicine there is.” In relation to the environment, he provides a helpful reminder of the pollution created by cars and notes that “walking is a lot better for us – and besides why are we always in a hurry?” This is an important reminder and I will try and make an effort to walk over to the store to grab a few items instead of hopping in the car.
“Acceptance of aging is part of getting older; some call it wisdom”
A chapter is devoted to aging which Suzuki shares is not a disease or a deficit but a normal process which happens to all and which he is embracing. He writes about the importance of quality of life – not just a longer life but a healthy, happy life including being outside enjoying all the world has to offer. In our effort to be young, he comments with incredulity the inequity when some cultures are seeking plastic surgery to improve appearance while in other parts of the world, individuals cannot access basic medical care.
“the challenge is not to extend our species’ lifespan or to ‘conquer’ death but to ensure that everyone has opportunities to live full and meaningful lives.”
The final chapter encourages the readers (and his grandchildren) to be thoughtful about the way that they live – to think twice about using disposable items, to consider the impact of pesticides and to consider sustainability when making purchases. He challenges us to think about happiness in the way that we live (not just striving for bigger and better), to be involved (including the importance of voting), to be kind, to share and to be part of a community.
” please spend as much time as possible outside, unplugged, so you can hear, see and smell the world around you… appreciate what it is that keeps you alive…we have to get outside and seek nature because we need that connection for our physical and mental health.”
This is a wonderful book. It was a privilege to hear Suzuki speak and to read the important wisdom he is imparting in his grandchildren. His words are an important reminder to stop and reflect on what is really important – family, community and the environment we live in. Although he does not say to stop and smell the roses, he provides an important message to be mindful of our surroundings – the air, water, food that sustain us while getting outside and enjoying the world around us!