Directors Column

August 2017 

I asked my son the other day what was one special thing his grandfather had ever told him that he thinks that he will always remember. I was looking for that depth in understanding that comes as an elder imparts wisdom upon a youth. I imagined the quote he always said about ‘if you are going to be a street sweeper, you should be the best da** street sweeper” or some other (what I thought to be) original quote that I always heard growing up.

I waited in anticipation as my son’s eyes rose to the ceiling in thoughtful contemplation.  He bit his bottom lip and he nodded and said “oh, yes grandpa”.  “Grandpa said” he then splayed his fingers raised his arms up and out to his side as if he was holding a massive object above him, then let out an audible breath. With this motion, he repeated “grandpa said” then paused and with the gesture like he was carrying an invisible globe above him like the statue in Columbus Circle, “du dah, du dah, du dah”.  I waited with expectancy for the ‘tip of your tongue’ experience to pass, but again, out came the articular gesture.  He shrugged and said “grandpa told us about 14 times! I don't know why I don't remember!!”  

I don’t know why either. Perhaps it’s the complicated condition of our shortened attention spans.  A recent media survey concluded that the average attention span has fallen to 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in the year 2000.    Were the words of grandpa premature?  Unsolicited?  Irrelevant?  Were the young recipients unwilling?  Immature?  Preoccupied?  If grandpa stuck with it and told him 15 times rather than only 14 times would that have mattered?  No one knows. As the more experienced members of family and society, we want to increase opportunity and decrease struggles for our loved ones.  We know that knowledge is better than riches and that wisdom has taken a lifetime to master.  We want to pass this down and experience the ‘light-bulb’ moment when we know the message has been received. 

At the time I was disappointed in his account of wisdom received (more like lack of wisdom) but not anymore. I now believe that what was conveyed beyond the soundless words that was bestowed on the distracted teens was their grandfathers sincere caring, emphatic sense of determination, and awareness of the expert command and knowledge of all the important things of life (what those things are - still yet to be discovered). 

I see grandfather and grandson in a relationship like that of Picasso and a protégé.  If the two walked the halls of The Met together, Picasso would see balance, patterns, color, light, movement and texture.  The protégé would see a pretty picture and maintain the certainty that in time he will know what his mentor knows.  With guidance, with his presence, but mostly without words…


“If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.”  - Martin Luther King,  Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, October 26, 1967.










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