“Save lives,” is the mantra we live by today. We have started to walk a psychological path these last months that ignore the greatest gift in life and that is the certain path toward death.
I’ve never looked at death with fear. Perhaps it’s due to my father when one day when I was a child we sat together watching a film about a Native American chief preparing for his own death. He felt his time had come and set himself into a small boat and out to sea. Except death didn’t come and he laid there wide eyed wondering why he was still alive after making all his sacred preparations, thinking he had planned it all so carefully. It took him time to decide to get out of that boat and back to life, realizing he had things to do. It wasn’t time for death and he had to humbly acknowledge that the universe was far bigger than him, a mere human being. “That’s how I want to die,” my father said. “I plan to be noble about it.” I decided I wanted to die that way too.
It’s one of the two greatest transitions of our “earth walk,” as some call it. Birth and death, two bookends that give us the most beautiful, challenging gift one could have, including the lessons one gains. First, with birth, the dreams emerge of what and who you want to be. As the clock ticks toward death, you have to look at who you have been with the lingering forever question, who was I and what was it all about? And, others will ask that same question about you for context and meaning in their own lives.
As I look around me during this “pandemic” time, I see the fear in eyes, especially the elderly, and the denial that death is part of life. If you’ve lived a long life, that is to be celebrated and respected. Shouldn’t you be grateful for a long life? Or, is there more to the story? I think so. Our society is about to experience the greatest death rate these next two decades of one of the largest populations in our world – the baby boomers at a time we do not value the sacredness of death. By acknowledging death and honoring it, such gives you the absolute love for life. We seem to have a society that believes they are impervious to that final act, as we know it. And hide in fear. Yet, we are set now to embark on one of the greatest cultural shifts in the history of the world spiritually, environmentally and culturally as death narratives confront us all, including the narrative of a baby boomer culture that has dominated us for over sixty years.
The baby boomers have had the limelight since the 1960s as their music, ideas and arts dominated our American culture. They rebelled against their parents, those who had been from a generation enduring the depression and World War Two. Their music screamed for freedom, world peace while they smoked joints and got high on LSD, again shunning the conventional world of their parents. They screamed against racism (rightfully so) and one generation of youth united like no other. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood tall with exceptional support boldly stating “I have a dream speech” about equality, Woodstock was a sea of screaming and dancing youth demanding a better world, as they also raged against the Vietnam War.
My own mother was a Navy wife and young mother during this time. Living on the naval base in San Diego, she was frightened about leaving the base anytime as many would harass her about the Vietnam War. My father was not in that war, but was aboard Navy ships, leaving her on her own during her very vulnerable years. My mother is about the most saint like person you could possibly meet. And I think how the hippies tormented her and I have to wonder whether I’ve actually been told the story straight – was the 60s revolution really all that great? Or was it a time of absolute disrespect toward elders, a time of bullying and shaming?
I’ve heard more stories over these last years that counter the positive narratives that have set my lifetime thinking about the greatness of the 60s Era. One was a story from a retired San Francisco cop who told me there were many directionless kids on the streets, those getting drugged up and were simply lost. There was great violence too. And the kids were only interested in screaming what was wrong. “They were hard years”, he told me.
You have to imagine what this is like for an individual like me who has lived in the shadow of all these stories about the greatness of the 60s. How my generation didn’t measure up to the same level. How my generation needs to be thankful for the work they did for us all. I was born in 1968, so I didn’t experience it. And as a lover of music, I believed all those great Summer of Love stories, believing they were epic times. And I always believed they were the greatest.
The horror is exceptional when a narrative you’ve been told and believed literally erupts and shows its ugly lies right in your face . . . you realize your stupidity for indulging in the illusion you were told to believe. You berate yourself for being so vulnerable and not thinking for yourself. And, this kills me to say, that Reagan was right about one thing, at least. He said the hippies are a bunch of spoiled brats.
The Sixties Era passed and then came the 1980s. The kids became adults and started to lead our country. And, what happened? For forty years, our country endured the most greed oriented, narcissistic era in the world history. The Reagan/Trump era began, two bookends that help us see a time period of consumer appetites that have driven our world to ruin. Like a bulldozing operation, their generation moved through the years taking just about anything without a regard for future generations. A generation who took MLK’s dream speech and grossly converted that narrative into the “American dream” of having a big house, a big car and power. . . I have to continue to think back to Reagan (and this kills me again) when he said “These are a bunch of spoiled brats.” Trump merely has exposed the dark side of these last 40 years, an age when unyielded bullying, shaming complaining, exploiting and greed have dominated and ruled the game. Trump is of the boomer generation. He has exposed the reality of a generation who still has their head in the 60s narrative. They just don’t want to admit it.
Today we are dealing with unbelievable levels of horrific trauma to our land, air and water as well as to our own bodies, health and mind . . when we KNEW better. From the books of Rachel Carson, the work of Alex Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall and even the visionary President Jimmy Carter who tried to set culture and policy to stop climate change and has lived a life of integrity without the pursuit of fame and fortune – there are ZERO excuses for Boomer generations. Today the boomer generation are senior citizens who somehow have twisted a new narrative to one that brings them sympathy . . . that we need to take care of them and completely eliminate the question “what happened?”
Perhaps it’s time the Baby Boomer generation gets a taste of their own medicine, so to speak and gain empathy for how their parents felt when they were rejected by a growing band of angry youth. They can feel the shame of what those Vietnam Veterans felt like when they were terrorized by hippies. Perhaps it’s time for a good dose of reality. And don’t hate me for calling out accountability. Stand for accountability.
There comes a time we need to shift and put all our energy into our children’s lives. For a generation who KNEW better, a generation who stood up and gave us all these stories about themselves as these incredible radicals who pushed world peace, I’m also calling them out on the greatest blaming, shaming, exploitative spoiled brat generation that could ever be delivered. I hold them accountable for the disaster we face today, including melting polar ice caps, ocean acidification, out of control consumerism, the billionaire class, the working poor and exploitative labor, as well as 40 years of wars to fund their lifestyles.
There comes a time you have to look at yourself and ask “Who am I?” This is the time. And consider it a favor.
The good news is this. The baby boomers rose once. Can they do it again?