A New World

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My grandfather and waitress, February 1940 (click for bigger image)

Every generation remakes their immediate world. Dress, slang, music and social norms all change. Those changes then ripple downstream and the next, next generation builds, or deconstructs and refabricates, on that. After half a century, the 60 years olds say they hardly recognize the world while the even older generations say nothing. The world has become an alien place to them.

My father’s world had the Great Depression and two World Wars with millions upon millions killed to preserve their nation-states. His upbringing was strict, respectful and hard working according to the directions of his parents. In turn, the schools my parents helped institute started each day with the Pledge of Allegiance and a reading from the Bible.

And so they remade the world.

Their children, including myself, were born into a post World War II feeling of relief and euphoria. As children, we explored our immediate world — the neighborhood and the neighbors — with few restrictions. We played hide-and-seek with everyone’s yard on the entire block as “fair game” territory. In the hot summers of the mid-south, clothing became almost optional as we learned ourselves and each other. Parental imposed limits to my play territory were like an imaginary moat around the neighborhood that could, and sometimes was, waded and violated without discovery or penalty. Viewed from a later generation’s perspective, my childhood environment probably looked somewhat like monkey mountain at the zoo with few limits on freedom of action. The setting allowed full indulgence of our creaturedom. Consequences were learned first hand rather than being passed down.

And while I reveled — wallowed, to be precise — in that environment, the slow accumulation of life experience would ultimately provoke me to impose more structure, to engage in a little more involvement, and to occasionally deliver more carefully worded guidance to my children and grandchildren. I would, on balance, re-adopt some of what my grandfather had practiced in guiding his children but which they, with their lives butchered by two horrific wars, had abandoned to foster instead an Eloi-like generation for a care free enjoyment of life.

Thus, and in my own time, I made what I pray will prove to be some small improvements that sometimes harken back to my grandfather’s world, sometimes to that of my parents, and sometimes changes that have never seen before. Some are created anew, or at least in a new way at a new time and, hopefully, to not repeat the failures of the past.

The world evolves according to the efforts if not the wishes, of each succeeding generation.

One of my granddaughters started her junior year of undergraduate college study this month. Some of her abilities and interests are quite clear now, albeit with an academic shine and square edges that will be bruised and burnished in the world outside in the coming years.

And some of the uniqueness and god-given talents of my other granddaughter are also quite visible now. As with our first, she also has many abilities to find, polish and then apply to the world. While our second is at a slightly earlier stage, it is clear she will also be her own person, imposing her will upon the world with rapier-like precision.

They both will come to know that while many things are desirable, some are substantially more difficult and take much more time than might otherwise be imagined.

The blank stare of that waitress in the picture suggests she is waiting for someone else to make a decision. We can imagine, probably with some accuracy, that she is somewhat bored and would rather be doing something, anything, rather than standing and waiting.

The next world, created by those who get up and do things, will soon be here.

And I expect it will be different, very different from the one we created.

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