I hadn’t quite turned 15 when somehow I learned that Trans Canada Airlines (now Air Canada) would charter an airliner to organized groups for half-hour flights over Niagara Falls, flying out of nearby Malton airport (we still called it that, though it had been re-named “Toronto International” some months earlier). Being mad about flying I asked my Dad whether we could organize that for the youth group at the church where he was minister. Sure, he said, that wicked twinkle in his eye. Why don’t you do it? From experience I knew that an excuse of just being a kid wasn’t going to cut it. Dad was a born mentor.
He had already encouraged me to learn how to type (farsighted man!) by pecking away at his typewriter with two fingers, and with each mistake ripping the paper out and starting again (I still two-finger type today). So, a letter to Trans Canada Airlines. We lived in delightfully named Nassagawaya Township, less than an hour’s drive from the airport, so even in those pre-Google days it wasn’t hard to find the address. A few weeks later a fancy-looking reply arrived detailing procedures and cost. Being a 14 year old kid I would have been happy just to treasure a letter on TCA letterhead addressed personally to me as “Mr. Griffiths” but, of course, this was just the beginning. Now, Dad said, how are you going to get enough people together and manage the money? And get to the airport?
It’s too long a story to detail here and I forget most of the organizing detail anyway but, in short, that’s how I became a 15 year old tour organizer and guide for about 40 youth and parents from Ebenezer United Church Young People’s Union, taking a chartered bus to Malton, enjoying a tour of the control tower, then boarding one of TCA’s super-modern airliners to soar and bank over Niagara Falls. Since then I’ve had a lifetime of use for the skills and self-confidence cultivated by a father’s attentive yet unobtrusive mentoring.
Jump ahead five decades to a conference in Halifax, run by graduate students in Dalhousie University’s Marine Affairs Program. It was the best conference I had ever attended – well organized, professional, thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable. I came away pondering why some such capable young people could graduate with a Masters degree and perhaps end up in some poorly paid job or unpaid internship under some grey-hair like me. Why can’t the world be run by people in their thirties, hiring us oldsters to offer what, hopefully, is wisdom from longer experience? Martin Luther King was still in his 30s when he gave his “I have a dream” speech; General James Wolfe won the battle on the Plains of Abraham and died before the walls of Québec at 32. Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he was drafting the United States Constitution and Karl Marx had just turned 30 when the Communist Manifesto was published..
It’s an old joke; “Quick, let teenagers run the world while they still know everything!” and sure, teenagers would be quite a different matter—although, say what you will about Greta Thunberg, she’s been invited to address a UN conference and has appeared on the cover of Time magazine: you and I haven’t. But people in their thirties are certainly more than capable of running the world. At the end of a previous essay I reflected on powerful countries being led by geriatric men. In contrast, Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minster of New Zealand at 37 and Sanna Marin of Finland at 34 (both women please note). They are doing fine. They certainly can’t do worse than the boomers.
And, for those of us who have passed a thirtieth birthday for the second time, this thought:
“Growth mechanisms are characteristic of youth …. The transfiguring power of growth mechanisms can be harnessed later in life, but only if individuals can overcome the army of myopic, retrograde, and mulish traits that usually go by the name of maturity.” (Robert Grudin in “Design and Truth”)