I’ve been thinking a lot lately about generations.
My thoughts are prompted in part by much ado about President Biden, who is 80, and not enough ado about DJT, who is 77. Biden, we are told by pundits, is showing his age, while bordering-on-obese Trump, who does not exercise and would be close to 80 should he retake the presidency in 2025, largely gets a pass.
And, of course, there are Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), 81, and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), 90, to make this more bipartisan. But there is more at work here than politics, age and ageism. There are generations–past, passing, present and yet to come. Recall (or research) when it was all the rage to rage against Baby Boomers, that postwar coterie seen as privileged and always demanding center stage. To which the then cheeky youngish Boomers replied, “Don’t trust anyone over 30!”
But Boomers are now so, well, old. Personally, I never identified with that crowd, having been born in (spoiler alert!) 1942. One of my early memories is of a V-E Day parade along 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. Uncle Bernie was in the Navy and “Bell Bottom Trousers” was a family favorite. Before he was sent (not deployed) to England, he was stationed aboard a ship in New York’s East River, defending Manhattan from the Bronx, or maybe it was Brooklyn from the Bronx.
I could say that I’m having a senior moment, but how tacky! How ageist!
Euphemisms abound. We speak of people passing on instead of dying, and of passing generations, which sounds better than the reality of mass mortality. So, to avoid such downbeat thoughts, society focuses on the young. What’s up with Gen Z? Are millennials already out of our sights? My generation, sometimes referred to as “silent,” was never really. Some of my peers marched in Selma, or went to Mississippi to register voters. A few died from the effort. Others went to Vietnam, and died or returned home not as conquering heroes but objects of disdain.
And now we are leaving the scene (another euphemism). A high school classmate who recently died went to Vietnam as a military intelligence officer, came home to dramatically discard his medals at the Capitol, lived on a Virginia commune and on an Israeli kibbutz. Eventually, he practiced law, first for a government agency, then for a private firm. He became more and more religious. He went back to Vietnam and tried to apologize to his Vietcong counterpart, who told him, “You have nothing to apologize for. You were just doing your job.” Go figure.
As for me, I passed a pre-induction physical but went to enlist and flunked. So instead, I wrote about Vietnam era protests and amputees at Philadelphia army and naval hospitals. I did not demonstrate — it was against my religion as a “neutral” observer — but broke ranks to march against the war in November 1969, among 250,000 protesters. Then it was back to reporting.
We all chart our own course, regardless of our generation. Our lives are defined by both internal and external forces, within and beyond our control, and then, ultimately, they come to an end.
There is, of course, the innocence of youth, when possibilities seem infinite and life endless. As a teenager in 1925, my father Gerard Previn Meyer — later an educator, raconteur, author and poet — composed a verse insisting that:
We shall be young: we shall not age
nor see our fellows age about us:
nor break our ranks: time shall not rout us,
nor any power turn the page
on which our names are writ in gold:
oh, we at least shall not grow old.
Then, of course, we do. But mourn not. As the saying goes, after all, that’s life.