As a boy, I recall noticing something in the eyes of older people. It was a kind of acceptance, a wisdom, often a kindness habitually bestowed on kids like me because I reminded them of their own children and grandchildren. Growing up, we were taught to respect our elders, but that usually came naturally. Unlike people my parents’ age, they had time to talk, to answer questions. They had patience. They’d had children, grandchildren, and sometimes great-grandchildren, but average life expectancy was lower then and it was relatively rare to know one’s great-grandchildren.
My grandson Riley with his great-grandfather
As an adult, when people my parents’s age were elderly, that respect continued. They were the World War II generation, all of them touched by that war in some way whether they were in uniform or worrying about relatives who were. They’d known deprivation during the Depression as well as the suffering of war. They’d had decades to reflect on all that and it showed in their eyes. They’d long ago come to accept that the world was imperfect and always would be. They were proud of their country and grateful to have been born here.
As an older person myself now, I still see that elderly wisdom in some of my contemporaries, but not nearly to the extent I did in previous generations. Too many have carried an adolescent petulance through adulthood, middle age, and well into retirement. They have not accepted the world as it is and continue to carry a peevishness because they haven’t been able to make it perfect. They blame “corporate America” and “the rich” and “the Republicans,” thinking if it weren’t for them, we’d all be living in a utopia by now.
Many in my generation eschewed parenthood because of the commitment and the sacrifice it involved, because it cut into their endless quest to “find themselves.” They’re old, bald, pot-bellied, wrinkled and gray now. The look in their eyes mirrors a hollowness, a sense they have not found themselves after a lifetime of looking, and now lack the energy to continue the search. They seem to lack the serenity and wisdom I perceived in the eyes of most of the elderly when I was a child. They don’t take to children easily because they chose not to have any. Some who did had only one for whom they didn’t set up a stable household, drifting from partner to partner and dragging the child along. They’re responsible for many of the 55-60 million abortions in America since 1973. Some of them did finally grow up, but too many others did not.
They lived in a country that protected individual freedom enough for them to indulge nearly every whim, but they have little sense of history. They don’t seem to realize or appreciate that they lived most of their lives in a time and place of unprecedented security and prosperity during the post-WWII Pax Americana. They’re oblivious to the barbarity prevailing in the Middle East, north and central Africa, and just across our border in Mexico, not realizing such chaos has been more the norm than the exception for most in the world throughout history. To preserve their freedom, their fathers fought National Socialism in Germany, then endured the Cold War during which the communist dictatorship that was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics murdered 40-60 million. Communist China killed even more — during the lifetime of narcissistic baby boomers. Did they learn anything from all this? They don’t appear to have.
Their historical ignorance disposes them to magnify flaws in their own country, onto which they project their own. They voted to reelect the closet socialist President Obama who would continue to “fundamentally transform” the United States. Now they flock to the rallies of Senator Bernie Sanders because he “came out” as a socialist long ago. Despite the horrific record of socialist governments elsewhere in the world before and during their own lifetimes, they still believe socialism can work if only the “right” people run it. In the imagined utopia they expect will result, they hope to finally “find themselves.”
The Big Rock Candy Mountain
Will they? Not according to the evidence, but their endless quest will continue to weaken the country they disdain, because for them the perfect is the enemy of the good. They cannot accept that there will never be a perfect world this side of heaven. Their grandparents’ generation my have sung “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” along with Burl Ives, but they didn’t actually believe it existed. They accepted that neither human beings nor any political system they fashioned would be flawless. Baby boomers, however, continue to look for “the land of mild and honey, where a bum can stay for many a day, and he won’t need any money.”