Weeds: Still time to burnish our legacy
I like to run a couple times a week, usually on Sleepy Eye’s lake trail or a gravel road. This time of year, when the great outdoors isn’t so great, I sometimes use the track at Vogel Arena. I was there, pushing one foot ahead of the other. A ten minute-a-mile pace is a fading memory. But I feel good about myself if I can stay upright and moving forward.
Suddenly over my shoulder, I felt a runner draw even. Shoosh, he was past and out ahead. I went from the feeling of momentum to the sensation of being a fence post alongside the road. It was a young man, maybe a Martin Luther College student. He wasn’t sprinting. Like me, he was going at a nice, easy pace. Only his nice, easy pace was a thoroughbred to my plow horse.
As he shooshed past me a few more times on the oval track, I thought how effortless it looked. The young man was gliding through space, arms and legs slicing the air. It occurred to me I was admiring his youth, a little jealous. Mostly I was impressed. That vitality is a gift that none of us appreciates when we’re young. As we age, we can try to stay in shape. But we can never reclaim the kind of vigor from when our parts were new.
I thought about our different perspectives. I can look at someone that age and have recollections of being 19 or 20. He could look at me but have no idea of what it’s like to be 63, soon 64. Neither could I at his age. We know the road we’ve travelled but can’t know the road ahead.
Humans like to put things in categories, boxes in our mind. In a world that is constantly changing, it is comforting to sort things. Sociologists sort by generations. We’re all amateur sociologists. I was born in the middle of the Baby Boom. Given our volume, we Baby Boomers have had a large effect economically, culturally, and every other way. Now we are moving into our “Golden Years.”
My children fill out perfectly the Millennial Generation, Anna born in 1981, Ezra in 1996. My running partner at Vogel Arena is of Generation Z. I’m not sure who gets to name these, but the labels stick. As I move toward Medicare, I find it engaging to talk with Millennials and Gen Z’ers. It’s interesting to see how a young mind processes the world as I recall how I did the same.
Not to be morbid, but we Boomers will begin exiting the stage in the decades ahead. We hope to be useful citizens of this planet as long as possible. But most of the mark we will leave behind has been drawn; we can begin to reflect on our legacy. Now is the time we should be passing off the best we can to those who will remain.
There is a way this should work. As we move past raising children and wind down careers, while we’re still physically able, these should be the time we have the most to offer our world before we take leave. Past the years when the pressures of job and parenting can overwhelm, we should be in a place where we are more patient and understanding. We’ve been through it; we know what they’re going through.
This doesn’t always go well. “Generation Gap” can refer to tensions between old and young. A modern variation on that theme is “OK Boomer.” You see that on t-shirts and internet memes poking fun at my age peers. As in, “OK Boomer with your old ideas, get out of the way now.”
A couple years ago, our congressional race came down to small number of votes. The winner was proudly an echo of the president. There are some ugly things in his background that he claims were written as humor, although mocking women and minorities isn’t necessarily funny.
He won by a margin in Brown County that was the difference. The next morning my daughter called. Not much in jest, she said, “Dad. It’s your fault. Old, white guys from Brown County. You elected him.” She was right. Same as old, white guys elected this president. He was chosen overwhelmingly by my kind.
It makes me wonder what we Baby Boomers are doing with this, our Golden time? All our experience, the accumulation of our knowledge, the wisdom of years, and this is the person we have chosen as our standard bearer? This is it? The best we have to offer?
Shouldn’t our generation be leading on care for the Earth? Wanting our grandchildren and their grandchildren to have clean air and water should be unequivocal. Instead, our country pulls out of climate agreements and guts regulations that were put in place for a reason. No generation in history has used more of the planet’s resources. Now we want to leave a mess for our kids to clean up?
Shouldn’t we be the ones who are responsible on financial matters, having balanced a checkbook our whole lives? Instead, we pile on debt that has reached incomprehensible proportions. What does 23 trillion dollars even mean? It’s growing wildly to support a tax cut to create an artificial boom. We won’t have to pay for it, so why not? “We got ours” is the message. I might remind fellow Boomers that we’re not taking it with us.
Shouldn’t we have learned compassion from a lifetime of dealing with slings and arrows thrown our way? Having lived long we have seen how difficult and challenging things can be. We can appreciate that good fortune isn’t always earned, and a helping hand can give us a boost. Instead, we harshly close borders to the most vulnerable and cut programs for the poor.
Could we at least be kind? I’m not talking about being kind to our family and people who agree with us. We could do that when we were five. Shouldn’t we have learned manners and decency from a lifetime of interactions? Instead, we have a leader who attacks anyone who questions him, using insults that you wouldn’t let your grandson use.
Shouldn’t we have learned the importance of cooperation and dependability? Our allies wonder what happened to the nation that was the moral leader of the free world. Now we speak glowingly of thug rulers while shredding treaties and trade agreements. Abandoning the Kurds to the Turkish army should have been one of the most embarrassing events in our history. Instead, within days, we were back to arguing about silly things like a football player kneeling. Meanwhile Kurdish soldiers who fought alongside Americans were being killed. We should have been ashamed. We weren’t.
I have heard often that we should “leave this world a better place.” When we think of how this generation will be remembered, we’ve got some time. Not a lot.