What I Learned From Coming of Age In the Sixties

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I came of age during the late sixties. It was a tumultuous time on multiple fronts. The Vietnam War was controversial, dividing the nation into those who believed that it was important to fight the spread of communism in Asia and those who saw the conflict as a waste of resources and American lives. While civil rights legislation had become law racism was still rampant as efforts to integrate neighborhoods and schools often led to anger and violence. A series of assassinations that included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had rocked our nation and made many of us wonder if our democracy was finally falling apart. The nightly news programs were filled with unspeakable horrors and there was a collective feeling that we were all clinging to the edge of a precipice with fingers that were broken.

I married my husband Mike in October of 1968. On that evening the priest who spoke the homily noted that it took a leap of faith and a dash of optimism to plan a future life in the midst of all the chaos of the moment. He offered hope but admitted that our journey would probably not be easy. He noted that love finds a way to overcome even the most horrific experiences and urged us to always embrace God and each other in the days to come. 

It has been almost fifty two years since that evening. Many personal and national trials lay ahead but somehow the priest was right that love gave us power over pain and sorrow and loss. Our family, our country and our world continued forward on a pathway that was sometimes glorious and sometimes bumpy and uncomfortable. I suppose that in those fifty two years nothing that we experienced was all that unusual in the grand scheme of things. We grew and changed and so too did the world around us. 

Life will be grand for a time and then we find ourselves facing uncomfortable challenges. Sickness, death, economic struggles, and world problems have invaded our solace time and again, but we always seem to find our way back to a sense of direction and peace. We never know what may come next but we have learned how to navigate with patience and grit. Some days we barely make progress and others we are able to run like the wind. It is all just part of the act of living. 

These days we hear so much hyperbole from the peddlers of fear. To hear them and fall for their rhetoric is to believe that our country and our world has finally been pushed from the precipice and is hurtling toward certain destruction. We are led to believe that our democracy is crumbling and that only one very flawed man is able and willing to save us. Meanwhile political power struggles are crushing the love between friends and family members that had been the glue holding things together. We have been manipulated and pushed to choose sides and adopt a zero sum attitude toward those who dare to disagree with us. We waste our precious time on this earth allowing ourselves to be tricked by incitements that have little to do with caring and everything to do with gaining power. Winning has become an obsessive pastime that destroys relationships and wastes the precious few moments that we have between birth and death.

I try to remember the wisdom of the priest who reminded us on my wedding day that the history of humankind has always flourished best when we love and work together. For that reason I am wary of anyone or any group that would attempt to pull us apart rather than to understand. Back in the late sixties we needed to hear and support those who bravely went to war in Vietnam as well as those who sincerely wanted to help by finding a route to peace. When the civil rights of a whole class of Americans were being denied we should have all come together in love to welcome them into our national family. Progress requires warmth and empathy and sacrifice in the bigger world just as it does in a family. 

In these days of Covid-19, isolation, and unrest I worry about our unwillingness to consider differing points of view. I try to understand how frighteningly difficult it must be to perform the duties of a police officer. I also put myself into the perspective of Black Americans and I hear the pain in their voices when they speak of injustices they continue to endure. I understand those who are horrified when they see a protest turning into destruction of property and livelihoods. What I do not understand is why we seem so incapable of bringing all of our divergent fears to a rational discussion in the spirit of finding real solutions to each concern. 

What is missing in our reactions is love. We cannot even express our true feelings without being personally browbeaten with arguments and judgements rather than efforts to understand. We ignore the complexities of situations and individuals and attempt to apply simplistic remedies rather than lasting and meaningful answers. The sound and the fury is so distracting that we are doing little more than shouting over one another.

In a loving family we do not simply berate a member who is acting out. We realize that this person needs our attention and we listen compassionately to their needs. We discuss how to work things out as a family, making uncomfortable changes or asking everyone to give a little. It’s what loving demands from us. It carries us through upheavals and helps our connections grow even stronger. So too might we approach the concerns of one another in our suffering nation. Flags and boats and parades and unending violence and destruction and snarky memes only pull us apart. There comes a moment even in a nation when we need someone with enough love to bring us all together again. That is what I learned from coming of age in the sixties. I hope that we will be able to find the will to just love.

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