Most of the people from my parents’ generation have already left this earth. Both of my parents have died and out of dozens of aunts and uncle only one remains and she will be 103 next month. They were the men and women who were children during the Great Depression and teens and twenty somethings during World War II. Then they settled down in the nineteen fifties and enjoyed the fruits of the economic boom with good jobs mostly for the men and new inventions like televisions. The majority of the women were stay at home moms although a few broke barriers in universities and at work. They often had lots of children without benefit of birth control and lived what one might call rather traditional lives. They tended to be a kind hard working lot that famously earned the designation of “The Greatest Generation” and they were indeed good people, but like any group not without flaws.
Most of my elders smoked heavily for years until the effects of this bad habit were finally openly publicized and their hearts and lungs were already severely damaged. They tended to just accept horrific practices like segregation even when they were not racist at heart. I heard most of the racist pejoratives that we abhor from my elders and cringed at them even as a child. I listened to women asserting that they had to ask their husbands how they should vote and lamenting the fact that they often had to defer to men in determining their lifestyles. They were nice, compassionate, hard working and patriotic people who just wanted to live quiet lives without upsetting the status quo. Perhaps living through challenging times as children and enduring war as young adults was as much tumult as they wanted to experience and so they did not seem to want to question things. They went to work, cared for their families and homes and saved money by living rather simply even though they might have enjoyed more luxuries.
Then along game my group, the Baby Boomers, one of the largest conglomeration of souls to overtake the world in all of history. We grew up in a different kind of time dominated by television programs and news that featured vivid images of happenings in the world. We were the Sputnik kids whose educations were accelerated by a race to space between the United States and the Soviet Union. We rolled into balls under our desks on Fridays when the duck and cover drills were part of our routine preparation for potential nuclear war. We watched the stirrings of demands for justice and civil rights grow ever more demanding until some of us were defying our parents’ wishes and marching alongside Black citizens that we had never really known because we had been hidden from each other. We became vocal about segregated water fountains, bathrooms and lunch counters. We questioned our parents and wondered how they could have been so silent about so many egregious things. They in turn wondered where we had learned to be so bold.
When the older generation got us entangled in a civil war in Vietnam we became the pawns of a conflict that would change our lives and divide our ranks forever. Some of us thought that patriotism meant fighting willingly in a an endeavor to promote democracy and others thought that patriotism meant fighting to save our peers from senseless injury and death in what appeared to be a doomed endeavor. We would never be quite the same after our years as young adults when some of us rebelled and some followed the example of our parents by faithfully doing as they were told. When the older generation bowed to pressure and signed voting rights and civil rights laws and withdrew from Vietnam we settled into our own adult lives much as our parents had once done only things were quite different.
We had opened wounds that would scab over but never quite go away. We were almost evenly divided between conservatives and liberals who debated back and forth, slowly changing the world in which we lived. Women went to work in droves, if not breaking glass ceilings as least asserting their independence in lifestyle and thought. Birth control made family planning an acceptable idea. We became more mobile and better educated. We watched our neighbors become more diverse. We lost the pensions and union safety that had protected our parents and turned to 401ks and investments. Technology brought unimaginable wonders into our lives. It became commonplace for ordinary souls to travel on planes to places all over the world.
It seemed to be a good life but there were still rumblings of despair that we often ignored much as our parents had done. We had not faced the realities of injustice or racism or poverty or sexual identity. Many of our fellow citizens were no closer to lives of security and luxury than their parents or grandparents had been. While our world grew more diverse the treatment of those different from ourselves was not always fair. The world somehow seemed to grow smaller even as it grew more complex. Suddenly happenings in far away lands had as much impact on our daily lives as events just around the corner. We saw that much had changed and not always for the better while we were busy living in the day to day.
We are enjoying longer and healthier lives than any other generation in history. We cling to our generational power longer than any other as well. Our children are hoping to take the reins of power and do their part in reshaping the world for the betterment of mankind but fear that their time will come and go as Baby Boomers in their seventies and eighties hang on tightly to influence. Much as we have done since the days of Vietnam we quibble with one another about what are the right things to do to leave our country in better condition than it was when we first took the power. We want to repair the generational gaps but get little or nothing done because of our intransigence. We don’t appear to have the good sense to retire and give our children and grandchildren a chance to try their hands at unraveling the gooey mess of history and politics that has confounded generations for all time.
In truth we are far less different from one generation to another than we may believe. We want to set things right but we only have so much energy for revolution. Sooner or later we grow weary and just settle for less than we actually need to set things right. Maybe the respite is necessary for allowing ourselves to observe and think or maybe it is a sign that it is time for a newer generation to carve out the kind of world that they wish for the future. We have done our parts just as our parents and grandparents did. The cycle of life demands that we know when to let go, With or without our input the world will continue to evolve toward closer and closer approximations of a better way of living for all.