Fall is coming our way. While it may not get cool again until November in my corner of the world I still think of autumn as my favorite time of year. It promises the beginning of the school year, Halloween, Thanksgiving and my birthday, all events that generally bring me great joy. I have a tradition of festooning my home with fall decorations beginning in September. It makes me happy to see the profusion of colors that somehow make my rooms feel so warm and inviting.
Fall means birthday parties for my husband and five of my grandchildren and election time in this grand democracy of ours. Two of my grandsons are newly minted voters who are registered to cast their ballots of the very first time. They are as excited as I was when I entered a voting booth long ago with a level of idealism that is the mark of the young. I remember believing with all of my innocent heart that my country was on a trajectory to perfection even as it appeared to be falling apart on the day in 1968 when I made my first foray into real citizenship. I had so much faith in my generation of Baby Boomers that I felt that we would be the ones who would finally bring out all of the good in our country where former generations had been unable. I saw my peers and I as the ultimate reformers who would eliminate injustice, create peace on earth and finally achieve a kind of perfection in democracy unlike anything the world had ever seen.
Of course on that day I had to choose between two elders neither of whom were of my generation. It would take many years before Boomers were even old enough to assume the reins of government. Now the Boomers are in their final years of influence and a younger group of idealists are describing their visions of a new world order just as we did. They have the same impatience and the same feeling that they have somehow found the secret to societal perfection that we once espoused. It is the way of the cycles of life. Just as the fall rolls around each year so too do the youngest adults among us dream of better worlds and developing plans for bringing their ideas to fruition.
I have become more cautious over time. More realistic. I used to actually believe that humankind is slowly evolving to a closer and and closer approximation of the example that Jesus modeled with his life more than two thousand years ago. I thought that events like the rise of Nazism were anomalies, outliers in an arc of ultimate improvement. While I still hold onto the idea that we humans are indeed becoming better versions of our species I have to admit that we can’t seem to get away from the jealousies that fuel our darker natures and lead to injustice and sometimes even wars. A quick survey of the world demonstrates all too clearly that unkindness and greed still stalk us even as most of us do our best to be more loving and generous. I see that we still struggle with temptations and that our Boomer leaders have been far from achieving the ideals of democracy that once seemed so certain to occur. In other words, we make progress quite slowly just as it has always been. One generation does not appear to be any better or any less than the others that have come before. Our commonality is that we always begin with the untainted enthusiasm of youth.
From one era to another the young have assumed adult life with enthusiasm and revolutionary belief that they have discovered the keys to the betterment of all. Often the older folk laugh at their naiveté and balk at the extreme changes they espouse. They fret that the newly minted adults are still in reality children with ideas that will surely sink the society that has been carefully and meticulously built brick by brick. While we push our young to think for themselves and become responsible we also attempt to pull them back into the versions of adults that we think they should be. Those who meekly ascribe to our ways are lauded as being good and those who dare to question us are deemed unpatriotic radicals.
It’s an age old repetition of the elders becoming outmoded and the young seizing the new day. Just as fall comes around each year, so too does the changing of the political guard. The “upstarts” voice the hopes of our grandchildren just as the twenty something Alexander Hamilton and James Madison put their mark on the revolution of long ago that no doubt frightened the fifty five percent of the colonists who were not so sure that forming a whole new government was such a good idea.
Today we witness eager young people with radical ideas that sometimes disturb us but they are nothing out of the ordinary in the grand scheme of things. They see the world from a different point of view because they are considering the future. I won’t be here in fifty years but they will. The world that is evolving will be theirs and we would do well to realize that one way or another they will have a say in how things go. We will leave them a nation different from the one our parents left us. The fact that they are already considering how they want to improve it is a good thing, not something that should frighten us.
My mother had very few earthly possessions when she died because she believed in giving away pieces of her legacy before she was gone. Her favorite print hangs in my sitting room. She took it from her wall during a visit one day and told me that it was mine if I wanted it. One of my brothers has most of her books that she presented to him volume by volume. I have her china and silver. She liked watching us enjoy and value those things before she was no longer on this earth. She often spoke the parable of the seasons and how it was important to know when to let go of control. She was an exceedingly wise woman.
I do not and will not insult eager young adults who are willing to speak of their dreams. It is not for me to quash them with stories of reality. They are beginning their journeys and seeing the road ahead while I am thinking more of what my happy ending will be. They are still in the spring of life while I am approaching winter. I genuinely wish them well as they try their hand at making life better just as young people have always done. The seasons will continue to come.