“Keep the buffer!”
That’s been a long-standing exhortation among my family members. Familiar, often delivered with a bit of an impish smile, it still involves issues of life-and-death.
You see, for most of my adult life and with loving predictability, my dad would repeat that clipped phrase whenever I was launching on any substantial road-trip. “Keep the buffer!” It means: Don’t tailgate while you’re driving; Keep back from any vehicles in front of you.
It’s obviously sound counsel. I’ve tried to abide by it and have taken up the charge myself, now directing the caution regularly to my sons. They sometimes even echo it playfully back at me.
During a recent visit with my folks, my father casually mentioned he’d picked up this habit from his Belgian-immigrant père. “Grandpa used to say that to you?”, I asked inquisitively, wanting to be sure I’d accurately understood him; and I had.
I’d never picked up that detail before but, of course, it shouldn’t have surprised me: as I said, it’s rock-solid advice; and that pattern of wisdom passed on from father to offspring, from person to person,
from group to group over the ages is pretty much the way things work; more profoundly, the way they’re designed to work.
“One generation shall praise Your works to another, /And shall declare Your mighty acts” — Psalm 145:4.
“A posterity shall serve Him. / It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation, /They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born” — Psalm 22:30
The Creator of All Things intends — commands, actually — humanity to proliferate and preserve good thinking throughout all history, the elder to the younger, the informed to the uninformed, the expert to the novice. It’s supposed to be an unbroken chain of salubrious knowledge and understanding, kept alive and reinforced as folks are exposed to that which those before them have confirmed helpful and practical. Embracing it themselves, putting time-tested wisdom to work, its recipients then begin to propagate it into others’ lives.
At least that’s how it ought to be. As centuries of human experience have ratified, when they, in fact, cooperate with God’s design? Things generally go better.
In The Rambler, the masterful Dr. Johnson observed, “Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.”
I’m tempted to speculate the eighteenth-century essayist had the Apostle Peter on his mind: “I think it is right … to stir you up by reminding you … I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease.” — 2 Peter 1:13, 15
This is how the best aspects of every era are maintained, it’s most noble discoveries and insights conveyed and reinforced into the future. It’s how civilizations are built and upheld.
A culture’s families, social organizations, networks and institutions — Burke’s “little platoons” — are mandated to be intentional and systematic in sharing the best of what they’ve learned and proven with those coming up behind them.
[D]iligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren [Deuteronomy 4:9] … [T]alk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up … [W]rite them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6:7,9]
The ancient psalmists concurred: “Let this be written for the generation to come” (102:18) … “that the coming generation might know— even children yet to be born— to arise and tell their children.” (78:6).
Existence-strengthening, life-enriching, circumstance-improving precepts won’t keep themselves in play; they can’t do so. That responsibility falls to distinctive men and women and the societies they develop. It’s our stewardship, and when we let it flag not only will we pay; our progeny and theirs will suffer the blow-back.
The frenetic busyness of 2018’s daily demands render it seductively easy to forget about this sacred commission. Too often, people today are gobbled up getting urgent things done, meantime postponing our existentially vital, generations-spanning duties to tomorrow’s leaders, builders, shapers. It’s not always that individuals forget the essentials because, point of fact, frequently they never knew them in the first place; their forebears dropped the ball, never impactfully communicating to them the truths they need to know.
Like, for example:
— It’s possible for ideological advocates to fight for what matters, to debate robustly and, yet … to treat the opposition with ground-level decency at the same time. It’s happened before, it can do so again. Strength doesn’t have to equate with vindictiveness.
— Socialism doesn’t work — never really has, never will. The ambitious and nefarious experiment launched in Russia, 1917, failed — as it has in China, Cuba, North Korea, modern day Venezuela, and everyplace else it’s been attempted. (No: the Scandinavian countries are not the statist exception to the rule, either.)
— Yes, Judeo-Christian ideals and a genius Constitutional system played indispensable roles in making America great.
— What does work, the freshest crop of newcomers asks? Turns out, a bunch of “old-fashioned”, not-so-trendy notions keep vindicating themselves: enduring husband/wife marriage, healthy fatherhood, sexual purity, respect for adults and authority, hard work and paying one’s bills, going to church.
— Liberty is to be cherished and must cyclically but inevitably be fortified. President Ronald Reagan mused, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
That broad obligation goes for anything worthwhile: a person acquires it, benefits from it, finally bequeaths it to those who are next in line, be they his loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers; his sphere of influence. It’s how all that is most valuable is perpetuated among and beyond us.
This is God’s plan. Bible writers and wise men recognize it. Dad and Grandpa practiced it. We all have a part to contribute.
“Keep the buffer.” Keep it going.
Image: CCO Creative Commons; Excerpted from: https://pixabay.com/en/michelangelo-abstract-boy-child-71282/