Somewhere in the transition from a Sunday Styles Page Two column on one topic which I thought was hot gay men on the town (or was it the one that chronicled the family relationships of an insightful, sensitive working mom?)-- I’m sorry, I should know, but I don’t -- anyway, sometime in the last six months or so, the space in Sunday’s *New York Times* has been taken over by a column called [Gen B]. I’ve been skipping it, assuming it didn’t apply to me, and going straight to the third page notes on style trends and all things chic, and then on to the brides (whom I have followed for decades now, in an entertaining and eclectic study of sociological trends). Anyway. Back to Generation B. It didn’t occur to me it was all about us. Generation B? Who came up with that? And why?
B for Boomer, I guess. Really, now, should we be calling a 60 year-old woman a “Baby Boomer?” It strikes me as being almost as absurd as calling the 15 pounds I never lost after my fourth pregnancy ***25 years ago(!)*** “baby fat.” It suggests we are delusional -- not quite facing up to facts -- in the one case, that we might be 15 pounds heavier, if not overweight; and in the other, that while we were christened baby boomers by virtue of our parents’ inexhaustible post-war fertility, that was then and this is now. It is 2010, and we are the grown-ups.
Apparently, however, the only distinguishing characteristic in focus these days is how many of us there are and, oh yeah, the buying power that represents. Play a little music from our formative years in the sixties, and we’re putty in the marketers’ hands. Ouch! Come on! There’s more to us than this. I insist. Well, there *should* be more to us.
Or are we still just lugging around what our parents called “potential” and “opportunity.” Just what might we be waiting for to realize it? I am beginning to wonder what it will take for this generation to come of age as something of more substance than a bubble? If I am being too hard on us, it is simply because I am once again feeling the need to be that hard on myself. I am disappointed not to have yet latched on to, i.e., become deeply engaged with, some new, meaningful work and/or ideas in my self-defined third third which started, actually, several years ago. I am more than a little embarrassed that, while we preached progressive ideas at our dinner table, our children have had to lead us to act on them, shaming us into awareness and employment of sounder environmental practices; teaching us that anything even just a little bit unjust, particularly to women or to homosexuals, is true injustice; pursuing professions in accordance with their passions rather than paychecks; and underscoring for us the life of privilege we have lived (and shared with them), fairly or unfairly. We have been successful; make no mistake about it. But I can now see that we have also been complicit in the compounding of the costs of that success; we have made things “more,” but not necessarily better.
The deep moral outrage that we believed helped end the Vietnam War and threw Nixon out of office rings hollow today: Our country is fighting two wars, neither in many ways honorable; politics is seedier and slimier, angrier and more ignorant and hateful than ever; our public school system is an abject failure; the energy crisis (remember standing in lines for gasoline in 1972?) has not been resolved; we have no self control when it comes to money; self-interest is the consuming national value; and one in four children in my home town will go to bed hungry tonight, no matter what I put on our table. It would seem -- and rightly so -- that moral outrage gets the booby prize. For being absolutely ineffectual.
Have I been numb, or asleep these last 40 years? What have I been thinking while writing my blurbs and running ten thousands of miles of carpool? Why am I only now waking up to the crises at hand? How can one rail against the status quo when it’s given you status? How destructive dare we be? How constructive can we be? What, exactly, might we be? Or do? And why is this so hard, and taking so long, to figure out?
A recent Gen B column showed boomers giving new life to the adage “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” especially in this economy. As baby-boomers hit the unavoidable bumps in the road, do they get out of their cars and fix the potholes -- for themselves and for all who might follow? Or do they just change cars? It turned out to be the latter, of course. We change careers and jobs, spouses and homes, priorities and politics, and the ways we adjust (or not) to increasing age -- and because there are so many of us doing it, we define a demographic trend columnist Michael Winerup reports is called “Reinvention.” We just keep on riding that bubble. We might even feel kind of smug that people keep writing about us.
All this attention. So little action. Why? I watch other women my age. I keep thinking that those I know and respect and admire for all kinds of different reasons might show me what to do, and I might follow their lead. But I’m not good at the same things they are. I have no patience for any more non-profit board meetings, and I don’t have the money to give to secure a seat at the table anyway. I don’t have teaching skills or patience with children who are through no fault of their own not ready, much less eager to learn. I hate raising money for even the best of causes. I get beat up in politics and tend to look for the best answer rather than building consensus around one that might work well enough. I get so overwhelmed by the dirt and despair of abject poverty up close and personal that I’m not useful on mission trips or in soup kitchens. I am totally unequipped to start an enterprise designed to bring an economy to life among women in some small, remote African village. And, to be brutally honest, it feels far more satisfying to play a smart bridge hand, sink a putt, or read a good book than to gratuitously apply a mere Band-aid to one of the world’s gaping wounds.
Discouraged, I turn to books -- to learn more about the nature of the problems that increasingly seem to demand my attention and to gain perspective on how they have been addressed in the past and by others. I am participating in a Bible Study which is, fundamentally (hate to use that word), about making my faith more real, which is helping me think in new ways about living in to it. I am talking with people who seem happy and at peace and who read and research and teach about constantly new ideas that interest them and could impact the world, like water rights, for example. These things make me as hopeful as my apparent paralysis makes me discouraged. They suggest I will know what to do next, that it just might take more time than I imagined to reclaim my true self and hear a true call. Marjory Zoet Bankston, in her latest book *Creative Aging -- Rethinking Retirement and Non-Retirement in a Changing World *agrees it takes time. In fact, she cautions, “Creative aging is a process, not a race or a benchmark of enlightenment.” As if reading my mind (or this post), she adds, “In fact, in this part of the neutral zone, we will probably feel lost, lonely, and small.”
Grown up. But lost, lonely, and small. I can relate. Can you?
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