Recently I was visiting in my fourth grader's classroom, and among the
activities on offer was a film
about whales, or more specifically, whales and some whale-studying people on a boat. This is part of a
larger program designed to teach science principles, which I believe works well, certainly in the hands of
an alert teacher.
But there was something funny going on in this movie, and after a few
minutes I figured it out. It was
the cast of characters! Altogether we had:
The gruff-but-loving grandfather/salty-dog mariner
The spunky Everyman kid
The neurotic loudmouth kid
The disabled kid
The woman scientist
The Afro American
The Hispanic (complete with accent)
The whales (going about their business, as flutes and violins play)
Now...does any of this sound just a teensy-weensy bit familiar?
Isn't this the voice of the baby boom
generation? Haven't we spent the last 20 or 30 years raising our consciousness and that of everybody we
meet? And please, can't we pioneers be forgiven a little clumsiness?
But back to the movie (and this is where things get complicated).
As the plot unfolded, I discovered
that a very... odd...sensation was creeping in... Then I got it. It was nostalgia! Bowwow! And that's
how I learned I'm hopelessly in love -- in love with my generation. It may be an uneasy marriage, but it's
"Well, this is perverse," you could say, and of course you'd be absolutely
right. But I'm no stranger
to perversity, and here's how I know. Listen. I have discovered that I can actually miss a longstanding
pesky problem when it finally goes away; I grow to love it because it is familiar. And then...there was
the return home from a spell in the African bush, a place where one believes the height of gracious living
is the opportunity to wash one's jeans in a real washing machine. I discovered I wanted to continue
washing my jeans by hand, in a small amount of cold water, with a bar of Ivory soap. Go figure! (No, this
didn't last.) And just think: Don't we all know people who talk wistfully about the good old days, while
we know for a fact those days were lousy? How about how some of our worst experiences later turn into
some of our favorite stories?
Now, as uneasy as we baby boomers may be with each other, as much as
we may disagree and
bicker, we still share the same history and the same language. In fact we are sitting right at the point
where a particular cultural heritage (ours) meets with a rapidly shrinking world, so our notion of
"neighbor" is different than it was. We're constantly rubbing elbows, literally and figuratively, with
people we would previously have never even met.
Besides our cultural heritage, we've been shaped by peace, affluence, changing gender roles, and
technology. We've watched the same TV shows, read the same magazines, bought the same fashions.
We've discovered that we're willing to pay Madonna to titillate us, Howard Stern to abuse us, and Oprah
to advise us. We've even discovered how to make darn-near-perfect cups of coffee. We're not alone in
our experiences, of course, but there are simply so many of us our tastes are not to be denied.
And soon enough, we'll be on our way out. We get to be the old
folks! Already we've moved from
the audacity and self-satisfaction of our youth (and a lengthy one it was) to the conservative concerns of
middle age. (How do we educate our kids, care for our aging parents, bolster our communities, plan for
the future?) Some of us are already getting sick with those illnesses careful diet and exercise were
supposed to prevent, illnesses only other people got. And what about those niggling debts of ours; and
what do we tell our children when we want to, ah, get back from Social Security what we put in? It costs
money to get old, and I'll bet most of us aren't so interested in that other very well-known alternative.
And here's perversity for you. As our pristine certainties
continue to fall under the unrelenting
onslaught of time and natural consequences, I find I -- well -- I miss them. And as each one exits (and as
the flutes and violins play), I find myself thinking, "Yep, that's one less thing between me and the big