It’s only as we age that we comprehend that the only constant is change. Yet as we age it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with that change. And as we struggle with keeping up, we turn increasingly to the comfort of the past we know. The danger is in allowing that drift into nostalgia cloud both our understanding of what was and our ability to see the possibilities in the future.
Our bodies become less flexible, so too our thinking.
We become the elders, pondering and pontificating, some slowly realizing the opportunities we had, the mess we made, and at once glad to hand off the weight of the present to the next in line while distrusting their ability to rise to the occasion.
The truth is the young have always had to clean up the mess left by their elders. And with enthusiasm and electric brains sparking with life and energy they embrace the mess and wrestle it into future.
And just about the time that next exuberant generation realizes that they are making another mess, their own babies are becoming children, becoming young adults, questioning the very life and style they are being handed by those struggling with each day’s sunrise wrested from sleepless nights.
It is as it is.
Our parent's generation was handed a growing, formidable Great White Fleet USA, a country building railroads and empires, conquering the Western Frontier, planting the Great American Desert into rolling fields of wheat and corn, giving birth to aviation and the automobile and the right of women to vote... and given the Great Depression, the Teapot Dome scandal and Tammany Hall, bank foreclosures, the Dust Bowl thirties, the abysmal Treaty of Versailles leading inexorably to the next great war.
They took on those challenges and built up out of the Dust Bowl a new generation of farmers and families and factories, took on Hitler’s armies and sent them to hell, built an interstate highway system and put one or two or three cars in every new garage, strengthened unions, gave birth to a social security program … and gave our generation the quagmire of Vietnam, Chicago politics, the atomic bomb, a deeply segregated South, factories pouring pollutants into rivers on fire, strip malls and concrete and Wal-Mart and McDonalds, and billboards blocking the beauty of the very country we love.
Our generation took that on, exposing the folly of the Vietnam War, gained more equality for women, fought for civil rights across race, cleaned up polluted rivers and wilderness, embraced trees and cultures across borders, built the Internet and PCs and cell phones… and set the Mideast on fire, invaded Iraq, build a world infected with terrorism and fear, destroyed a public education system, dug and drilled for oil in any country, province or wilderness we could bully, buy or steal, saddled the next generation with incredible debt and thousands of tons of toxic nuclear waste…
Despite the best of plastic surgery, we age. Our eyes, despite the promise of medical priests, dim. We came up with solutions to vexing problems, a legacy of our parents, and theirs, and theirs, and we leave vexing problems behind.
Our children are justified in shaking their collective heads at our follies while all the same benefiting from our strength and resourcefulness. They will understand that, as time moves and they too stand at the edge of now, their feet incased in the weight of their past, their bodies bowed as the future recedes from their grasp.
All that to say that much of the bloviating about how bad things are is much the same as bloviating has always been. I am encouraged and heartened by this new generation of problem solvers, amazed by their intelligence and stamina, amused by their wit. I have no idea how they will take on the mess we made.
But I am convinced that they will.