By CEAN BURGESON
I often wonder if I was born 50 years too late. I have a fondness for the world of my grandparents that I can’t shake. Men wearing suits and hats, big band music, the advent of radio, films of the time — all hold a romantic aura for me.
Part of that era’s appeal is the legacy that each generation leaves — the contributions that they made.
My grandparent’s generation lived through the Depression, the New Deal, and World War II; as well as the resulting boom in this country after the war. Their contributions helped shape the modern world. And their sacrifices helped us to live in the prosperity that we enjoy today.
My parent’s generation had Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the end of the draft, protests, free love, rock n roll, and a myriad of other revelations and contributions to American culture. Their sacrifices, like their parents before them, also cleared the way for many of the freedoms we are fortunate to have in this country.
What is my generation’s legacy? What have we contributed?
The 70’s and 80’s, making up around half of my lifetime, were more my parent’s era. I enjoyed growing up during this time, a time mostly of peace and prosperity.
Towards the end of the 80’s we began to come into our own, but we didn’t have a depression, or great world war to define our actions. During the first Gulf War, I was in college, and it was over so quickly; I didn’t have the opportunity to participate.
Years passed, and technology became our generation’s boom. Crude video games and personal computers of the late 80’s and early 90’s evolved into the Xboxs and powerful notebooks we use today. The Internet flourished, IPods and MP3s entered the public lexicon, mobile phone usage exploded. Technology made the world a smaller place, and allowed us to communicate and express ourselves in ways never before imagined.
So why do I sometimes wish I was born in the time of my grandfather? I think I envy their grit, their determination, and the hurdles they had to overcome to keep American on track.
Do I really admire the adversities they had? Of course not. No one wants their life to be more difficult. I just believe that Generation X hasn’t really made their mark yet.
And I think Gen X may take for granted the sacrifices made by previous generations so we can live in the manner we do today.
So I wonder about my grandfather, who struggled through the depression, with multiple extended family members living together under one roof, and a Model T he went in on and shared with another guy. I wonder about his being drafted to fight in Europe, seeing his friends killed, having to live in foxholes, then being captured by the Germans and forced to live in a prisoner of war camp. Trading on the black market to survive, he escaped only to be captured again, and then remained a prisoner until the allies liberated his camp.
Later, he came back home and raised six children while having a successful career as a juvenile probation officer, keeping kids in Detroit off of the street and out of jail, facilitating numerous adoptions, and counseling countless youths.
What did he think of my generation before he died ten years ago? What would he think now?
I think he would be happy that we never had to endure the hardships he had. And I hope that he would feel pride that he and the rest of his generation had a large part in the peace and freedom that we live in today.
Will the war on terror define the Gen Xers? Is this our societal inheritance? Will we define ourselves by how we handle this menace?
Perhaps. Maybe our great war, our freedom ride — will lie in restoring the peace of mind that Americans used to have. We live in a more globalized society, where world wars aren’t fought with conventional weapons, by conventional warriors. Today it’s difficult to define our enemy. This is a whole new world.
I just hope we aren’t the first generation to fall short of those who fought before us, who did what had to be done during tough times.
We are the MTV generation. We love our video games, our plasma televisions, and MP3s. We spend money on big houses, toys, boats, snowmobiles, and ATVs. We spoil our kids with Game Boys and participation in expensive travel sports leagues.
But we still have that American spirit. We know what has to be done.
I think that when the time comes, we won’t disappoint our grandparents, parents, and our children. And we’ve already started to show that.
This past week the duration of the Iraq war surpassed the amount of time that the United States was involved in World War II. It’s funny how we measure this war against previous ones, like we are trying to live up to some precedent. But there’s a reason for comparisons of this type. We have large shoes to fill.
I’m still unsure of what our generation’s legacy will be, what our grand contribution to the country, to the world, is destined to become.
I think that is being decided every day with the passing of time — and only time will tell.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org