I suppose the surest sign of advancing age is in full view whenever someone speaks of the good old days with a kind of reverence. I have to admit to being guilty of that more and more often even though I purport to be a forward thinker. Sometimes it just feels as though everything is changing way too fast. Time is fleeting and for some reason it seems that the older I get the more it accelerates. In just a few short years I’ve gone from being part of a younger generation to serving as one of the heads of the family as all but less than a handful of my elders have left this earth. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to watch traditions slowly change or even die because the world is so demanding of everyone’s time.
I haven’t known whether to laugh or just sigh when I hear my children and some of my former students speak of the times when life felt so much better as though they were speaking of some ancient age of glory that no longer exists. Somehow in our rush toward innovation we’ve managed to make so many things more complicated and more expensive than they have ever before been. The idea of decreasing our workloads and having more time for ourselves and family has seemingly become a broken promise as the hours that we gained through our inventiveness have been filled with new demands at higher and higher costs. Ours has become a kind of pressure cooker lifestyle particularly for our young who worry incessantly about what their futures may be.
There really was a simpler time but it was never trouble free. We humans have grappled with universal problems since the beginning of history. Our need for the basics of survival, security, relationships and self development are part of our makeup. They transcend time, place, ethnicity and politics. When all is said and done we are all searching for the same things and when we witness the death of a superstar like Kobe Bryant we are reminded that even he was after all just like us in his love of family. With all of the adoration that was shown to him, it was inside the small circle of those who knew him best that the ultimate purpose of his life was defined,
I vividly recall my days as a young adult just beginning the process of becoming responsible. I was in many ways playing a role that I was yet to fully understand but I had huge dreams and felt unstoppable. I truly did think that I somehow had a better grasp on life than the adults who had been instrumental in raising me from a child and I felt that it would be my generation that would somehow set the whole world aright in a way that no other had managed to do.
Back then an apartment cost only a bit of change over a hundred dollars and the rent included all utilities. I could purchase gasoline for nineteen cents on occasion. A loaf of bread was a quarter and a gallon of milk was under a dollar. I bought groceries with a twenty dollar bill and dreamed of a glorious time when I might be rich enough to have an income of a thousand dollars a month. My first semester of college cost me less than five hundred dollars but I remember worrying that I might not have the finances to pay for the next semester and the next.
I indeed struggled to maintain a budget even with the seemingly low prices of everything because the cost of living was proportional to the average wages that people made. The first lesson that I learned as a fledgling adult was how much brighter my elders were than I had given them credit for being. I also began to appreciate the sacrifices they had made to care for me and my peers, almost always without complaint. I saw how difficult it is just to provide the basics of life. I was tired most of the time and became more and more in awe of the men and women that I had seen faithfully attending to their jobs day after day when I was still a child. I realized how much I had taken their efforts for granted.
Through each new decade my confidence rose along with my income. So often my progress was offset by rising costs. By the time my own daughters were attending college the cost of a semester ran into the thousands of dollars. Groceries and gasoline and housing prices required far more than they had thirty years before. A thousand dollars a month was a pittance and would not even cover the most basic lifestyle. Worse still was the realization that with all of the dreams I had shared with my generation we had yet to find the nirvana for the world that we had been so certain we would be able to create. Like generations before us we had fallen into the cycles of survival that have ruled mankind for centuries.
Now I’m watching my grandchildren set out toward adult life with the same swagger that I had when I first began to live on my own. Their world is a much different place with pressures and problems and costs that are staggering and yet I have great faith in them. They may not be able to conquer all of the problems, for surely new ones that we have yet to even realize will arise. I have faith that like my peers and my parents’ peers and those of countless generations before us they will learn what they need to do and eventually take the reins to tackle whatever challenges may come.
We live and learn, advance and falter, create wonders and make messes. It is who we are as people. Ideas and things come and go just like we humans do. Costs rise and so do incomes. We chip away at our problems and actually begin to eliminate some. We figure out how to defeat polio and how to build machines that travel into space. We are innovators at heart, essentially kind people who overcome hatred and violence again and again. The costs of improving ourselves and our world may rise but we always seem to find ways to make things happen. Life goes on.