Victor Hugo suggests that education is liberating. In fact, his famous literary character, ex-convict Jean Valjean, learned from something totally foreign — the morals of Bishop Myriel. The indelible act of mercy that Bishop Myriel showed Valjean changed the projection of Valjean’s life permanently. Perhaps Hugo was thinking of Valjean when he said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” My personal reflections on this quote brought me to my grandfather…
My grandfather opened a door to education at the age of 90. Two years prior, he decided it was time to relinquish his driver’s license and gold Toyota Corolla. Ten years prior to that, he insisted that “this year” would be his final year driving. Being an extrovert, world traveler, and adventurous man, relinquishing his mode of transportation would create an environment of confinement for my grandfather.
In order to make this difficult transition as easy as possible, we all promised my grandfather that we would take him out whenever he’d like and drive him wherever he had to go. And we did. But, it wasn’t the same: his independence was gone; his freedom diminished.
One morning, my phone rang. “Hi, Grandpa! How are you doing?”
“I need your mother’s email address. I’m doing email.”
A week or so later, to my amusement, I opened up my Gmail to find a chain email that my grandfather had forwarded to me. Every so often, a little note or inquiry would trickle its way into my email. What’s your sister’s address? He would write. Or, Are you and the kids available for brunch? These messages reminded me of my college days, when I would excitedly find a typewritten letter from him in my mailbox.
One evening, I went to visit my grandfather in his retirement home. He had requested that I come over so I could show him how to attach a file to an email. But first, he had to show me what he found on YouTube. We spent the next thirty minutes watching videos, and he was delighted.
I picked my grandfather up to go shopping one morning. As we were driving, he nonchalantly mentioned some pictures he had seen on Facebook. “You’re on Facebook?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, yes. I’m on everything.” With theatrical gestures, my grandfather pointed here with his left index finger and there with his right index finger, explaining how he clicks through his browser to navigate all sites. Sure enough, I went home, found his Facebook page and “friended” him. The next time we spoke, it was about all the pictures we had seen that friends and family had posted.
After email, YouTube, and Facebook came Skype. His Dell desktop became his new Corolla. My grandfather was able to talk to relatives in Canada. He was able to see what his cousin was building in Greece. And he kept going.
My grandfather decided to research legal cases that were of interest to him. The next time I took him shopping, it was to buy a 3-ring binder for him to organize all his notes on various lawsuits. Then, he began to research Yelp reviews and lawsuits involving Yelp. “Oh, Kathryn,” he would say, “the computer takes up all my time!” The computer did take up all his time, but it didn’t take up his energy.
We recall cartoons from our youth, where prisoners in striped uniforms use a spoon to dig through their cell floor to freedom. Jailbreak movies and books alike are abundant with instances of distracting riots or opportunistic bribes that permit convicts to escape from their confines. Spoons, bribes, and riots will never serve as reliable means of emancipation from our personal “prisons.” We do, however, have one powerful tool at our disposal: education. Valjean allowed himself to learn from the morality of a clergyman. Less dramatically, my grandfather accepted the technological revolution from which people of his age are generally set apart. Victor Hugo suggests that education is liberating. He is right. By opening the door to the world of computers, my grandfather closed his prison.
Wow, what a great testimony to your grandfather! I’m so glad he closed his prison. Your writing has the power to touch hearts. Thank you for inspiring me today.
This was so fun to read! Excited to see how he has adapted in such a transformative way. Great reflection on Victor Hugo and Jean Valjean as well. Thanks for sharing.
Very nice. Thanks for sharing!
Apparently some old dogs can learn new tricks.
Very cool. Really illustrates the doors that open when you begin the process of learning and growth. I wish I staid in school longer and hung out at the library more!
You are never too old to visit a library. They are in need of patrons so it will be a win-win for both you and the library.
What an inspiring read about an inspiring man. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading more of your writing.
I loved this- made me tear up. He sounds like a wonderful man – open to change and learning new things. Very inspiring!
Awesome read. Your grandfather sounds like quite the interesting person. It is also quite the testament to how the digital world is changing the physical world we live in.
Loved reading this, thanks for sharing!
Apparently there have been prison programs that shorten the prison stay according to books read. Many of the inmates do not go back to crime. A good read. Enjoyed your topic
Yes! I read about that, too. Was it in Brazil? Such a great idea.
This is awesome! Technology can be overwhelming and difficult for anybody, especially at that age! So glad he took the time and has somebody to assist with. Such a great story and such a great way to stay connected!
Loved this! A great reminder to never stop learning and exploring!
Nice. I hope I too will embrace the new and the unfamiliar in my advanced years. God bless your Granddad.
It takes real courage to venture into the unknown, at any age! I am not surprised that your grandfather found his own way to ‘get around’. Thank you for sharing!
Nice to read a story with a different take!
Excellent read! Great to hear about technology being used by older generations and not just millennials.
Thanks for sharing! Great essay!
Aw i love it!! Such personality he has and what a great new outlet for his adventurous spirit 🙂
Great read. Interesting. Thanks for sharing
I will be sharing this with my parents who are going through some of these same changes! Well written.
Prayers for your parents as they navigate through these changes.
I wonder why more folk in his situation haven’t done so as well? It seems so much more fun to have something to do, explore, etc. than not. I guess if you aren’t in good health you may not have the energy? I wonder. I’m so glad that he has found such joy in his new adventuring!
Interesting thought. Even if they are blessed with good health, accessibility is a likely hindrance. For my grandfather, he was provided a computer and had someone to guide him through the initial steps. I don’t suspect many elderly would go shop for this technology on their own.
Love it! What a great reminder to take advantage of the ever changing world around us and use it to cherish the precious moments we are blessed to have with our family.
A refreshing perspective on the use of the computer. Thanks for sharing!
My grandfather has always been sharp, but in his later years he also has made use of technology to keep his mind working–he plays bridge and learns new languages online. Most recently he’s learned basic German and Spanish! It’s so refreshing to hear that technology can truly be educative and edifying and not just a mindless time-waster in the way that younger generations tend toward.
88 and still zooming along in his gold Toyota Corolla? I was inspired before I got to the good part.
It was fun reading about your relationship with your grandpa and how he turned a not-so-fun part of his life into a very interesting one! 🙂
You have a beautiful way of expressing feelings and describing events. I could see you and your grandfather’s visits and feel the emotions through your words. Thank you for sharing that beautiful story.
This is beautiful. I hear more often how we have become “prisoners to technology,” and it’s really helpful to hear about the ways that technology has liberated us too. Thanks for sharing!
On an unrelated note- a gold car?! What a baller!
Great insight! Technology certainly does possess the dichotomous imprisonment/liberation element.
Haha I love this! Your family reminds me of mine in so many ways! My great Aunt was still taking the bus into town at 90 for her 2 classes. Computer and Spanish. I think there’s a generational thing, where learning today is seen by the young as a punishment, not an opportunity.