Baby Boomers and world-changers, this may be the moment we’ve been waiting for. (Gen X and Gen Y, please read along and contribute to the discussion – it concerns you, too.)
We certainly had strong ideals, back in the day. We’d stop the war, end racism, sexism, poverty, injustice and protect the environment. We’d have careers in art, writing, theatre, music, dance. We were full of enthusiasm, and the revolution was at hand.
Yes, the powers-that-be thwarted us. They were stealthy planners. The tragedies at Kent State and Jackson State crushed us. We were infiltrated by provocateurs who created havoc in our organizations. We were stunned, and fell apart politically.
But also, “grown-up” life happened.
Make Love Not War led to children, and we were awestruck by our love for these perfect and helpless beings we had created – who were completely dependent on us. We wanted a safe place to raise them. We suddenly needed health insurance, money to pay the mortgage and for orthodontia. This all required full-time jobs with benefits, which our “ideal” careers didn’t usually offer. Many of us chained ourselves to a dismal 9 – 5 grind, to the corporate job where we sold mass-produced fuzzy dice.
Inflation increased steadily, wages very little. It became important for even a middle-class family to have two incomes (poor families had already experienced this reality).
At the end of the day, we were tired, and there was still dinner to make, feeding and bathing and diapering, story time, dishes and floors to wash, the lawn to mow. Later, our children needed our help with homework, schlepping to the soccer games and dance lessons and birthday parties. Even with a supportive partner, it was draining. The revolution was put on hold until we had more energy.
Then we needed computers, followed by internet dialup, DSL, wireless connections; 8-track and cassette players followed by DVD and MP3 devices. Station wagons and SUVs. Cell phones, smart phones.
We had to prepare for our kids’ college educations, retirement.
And for the most part, we wouldn’t have done it very differently. Perhaps, in retrospect, some of us wouldn’t have upgraded to the larger house, would have stuck with used cars instead of buying new, would have found ways to be less materialistic.
But having children would have required setting aside many of our plans, anyhow. It would have been difficult to live much less materialistically unless our children accepted that value – and that would have been difficult unless their peers and the families of those peers accepted that value. It felt impossible.
And would we have wanted to live our lives without our children? Speaking personally, no way, no how. I’ll bet that’s true of you, too.
The world and economy we lived in simply was not set up to accommodate the ways in which we would have liked to live, and we were not in a position to make it so.
When we were supposed to be in our prime of life, we were too busy and tired – and perhaps discouraged – to notice.
Today, many of us have grown children. Our mortgages may be paid off, retirement nearing. And we’re looking back at those partially finished canvases we stored in the attic, thinking wistfully of the guitars we sold. We gaze out at a world crumbling apart, and wonder, how did we let this happen? It wasn’t supposed to be this way!
It occurred to me recently that this – right now – might be our prime of life. This may be our greatest chance to give our children the best gift of all – a world and economy that IS set up to accommodate their dreams, and ours.
Because it’s not over ’til it’s over, and it’s far from over for our generation.
I’ve thought a lot lately about this subject – the aging of my generation. I’ve also been reading a lot of freebies on my Kindle – a few are a joy to read, most not so much. Some are great reminders of everything NOT to do as a writer. I’ve finished reading one of the latter recently, and the author repeatedly refers to characters in their late 50′s as though these people are on their last legs.
A part of me is amused by this – the book was clearly written by a very young author, who won’t realize until he’s in his 40′s that 50 is the new 35. I’ve begun looking around at my 50- and 60-something contemporaries, and though we may be graying (or missing hair), and having a bit more trouble keeping the waistlines trim, many of us have taken good care of ourselves, eaten right, exercised, and we’re pretty damned healthy. Many of us are healthier than some of the 30-somethings we could name. Our minds are active and sharp.
Many of us are still operating in the professional world. Others of us are looking for new careers doing something that feeds our passions. One friend recently opened a thriving yoga studio. Another is exploring programs in organic solid waste management. Singer-songwriter friend Joe Peters – who DIDN’T sell his guitar, though he did have an academic career - is about to record his latest CD, called “Second Wind”; the title song says, “I may be old, but I’m not dead yet.”
It was while listening to Joe perform this song, first at a May Day festival organized by friends who live at May Creek Farm, an intentional community, later at a singer-songwriter showcase, that I began feeling an objection rise up. Old, my friend? I just can’t see anything truly old about us!
That’s when I realized that just as 50 may be the new 35, this, RIGHT NOW, might be our prime of life. And oh, what we could do if we all just realized that!
Most of us would like for our children and grandchildren to have what we didn’t. This was true for our parents and their parents, too, but earlier generations were thinking in terms of “stuff.” We boomers were the first generation to espouse the new ideal of “being” instead of “having.” Our depression-generation elders were bewildered – they wanted to hand us this world they had built that was all about having and consuming, and we were turning up our noses at it!
But we wound up accepting that world anyhow, mostly because our kids and responsibilities came along before we had any real chance to change it. And once we’d been sucked into that world, it felt impossible to get out. We acquiesced.
This is all a little unfair. Certainly, a fair number of our generation have TRIED to change the world. I think of my old friends at the People’s Law Office in Chicago, and of Legal Service Organizations across the country, of friends who have started alternative schools, intentional communities and organic farms, friends who are teachers and nurses, friends who have started hunger organizations, counseled domestic violence victims and staffed homeless shelters.
And I know more than a few people who make their livings in the arts.
We’ve made some social progress. In my lifetime, world-changers have moved us from a country that relegated African-Americans to the back of the bus, to one that has elected an African-American as president. It’s been an evolution, though, not a revolution.
And without a fundamental restructuring of our economic priorities and the values that these are based on, the task has been one of Sisyphus proportions. The boulder keeps rolling back downhill.
At this point in time, many Boomers are less encumbered. We have life and career experience, far more economic and political savvy that we did at age 20, perhaps some money (for a discussion of the power and influence that women can contribute, see my earlier post, Will the World Be Saved By Western Woman?). Between the internet and Twitter, we have an almost infinite array of tools for political organizing, artistic expression, non-profit fundraising, and marketing of the wares that we have shaped out of our passions. The powers-that-be are holding onto their legitimacy by a single thread.
We have the tools to cut that thread. We have the ability to insist on a restructuring of our economy into one based on caring, and meeting the needs of people and our planet, focused on providing “bread and roses,” instead of on power-mongering and accumulation; on a foreign policy that ALSO asks how we can work together to meet the needs of all, instead of stealthy plotting around what’s in it for us and how we might profit – and winds up making enemies.
We are living in a time of great possibility, but I have the distinct feeling that it is one breath long – that we need to seize the opportunity NOW.
How will you use your prime of life?
What will you do to change your life and the possibilities for your children and grandchildren? If you are having trouble re-discovering your dream, check out another of my earlier posts, How To Find Your Calling.
And as a social body, what’s our next step?
Please comment with your ideas. I hope that all generations will feel free to join in on this discussion.