Today, I did my walk on the Tommy Thompson trail. My plan was to continue listening to my novel Detroit; An American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff. I use the term “novel” loosely, as it seems to start as a novel but becomes an accurate book of modern history, accented with presumably fictionalized background and foreground stories. I can’t remember how I found this book, but it did live up to my expectations of being wonderfully written, although miserly depressing. I was living in the area (Ann Arbor) during part of this time (1980s) so the historical context sounds very reliable to me.
Because the book bounced between real history and fictitious characters, it was hard to judge where the book was going. It did surprise me today when the book came to a sudden conclusion, while only a mile into my walk.
By 10 AM the sun was cutting through the morning marine air and it was becoming a lovely morning to walk. While I don’t mind walking in silence, listening to the sea, the birds and conversations passing me going in the other direction, today I decided to listen to music instead.
My I Phone (where the book is stored) has never been my favorite place to store music for several reasons. I have a small MP3 player for that, which I had left in the car. But I did turn to my I Phone music section to find an old play list. Yes, it was an old one, but I was using it as recent as 9 months ago for my 7-mile run into town. My, oh my what a difference a few months can make. Will I ever run again?
This play list is an eclectic collection of pop songs from the 70s, some classical and more modern pop pieces. But the list is rich in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as well as Carol King, and Eva Cassidy. With the warm sun on my shoulder (and sun-block-protected bald head) I was immediately transformed back to one particular day in 1974. It was a sunny day (and I don’t mean to sound like the “Rain-man”) and it must have been October because the maple trees around our campus house, just down the street from East Tennessee State University, were all golden.
Someone in our communal house (of about 5 people) had bought or borrowed the Carol King’s LP, Tapestry. Since we were so poor, I bet it was a borrow. But it was playing, and I was listening, while sitting at the checker-board kitchen table, to her unique and somewhat hoarse voice. It had to take some getting used to (as compared to Olivia Newton John) but within minutes, I was in love … with her voice.
It was during the same era that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were often playing on the stereo as well as Steely Dan or even John Denver. We had a mix of Jesus music sprinkled between the more secular tunes, such as a group called Love Song.
Those were good days. I say this, not only because I had a nice, healthy 19-year-old body, full of energy, but we seemed to be entering a new age of optimism. The Vietnam War was winding down. My generation was seeming to have wised up to the truth that war is a complete waste and is always humanity at its lowest point. That emotionally charged words, such as “patriotism,” “freedom,” “democracy,” were really just words of manipulation, cast out by the bomb-making profiteers. We were catching on that 18-year-old boys were just fodder for the war machine, whose purpose was to make someone rich and powerful, but certainly not us. Death and suffering was our calling in the off-sided negotiation.
We felt like we were on the eve, both from our secular and Jesus music sources that neither we, nor our descendants would (as the Bible says) have to study war no more. We had rejected the traditional Christianity of the Bible belt with all of its pretentiousness and self-righteousness to what seemed like a purer form, of real love and compassion for everyone. If one of us went hungry, we would all go hunger to share the resources.
In those days, as is true in most people of that age, the most important things to us was who we could fall in or out of love with, for that season, what to major in, engineering or physics … and what we could eat the next day (mac and cheese was usually on the menu in some form).
But our hearts were full of hope for social justice, not just in Johnson City, but for the entire world.
Were we just naive? The older generations referred to us as idealists. But were we? I honestly think we were on to something, something fabulous.
So, what the hell happened? I may have it wrong, but now I look around at my generation and I see a lot of old angry people. But we had so much privilege I don’t understand the anger. Believe me, I understand or am at least very familiar with disappointments about life these days, but I don’t get the anger. Was everyone expecting to become rich and famous and being loved by the one you love forever? Is that what has pissed everyone off so much and ushered in this sense of leaving the eve of utopia to dystopia? Sure, there are challenges in this complex world.
I don’t understand either how my generation, for most part, lost their curiosity. They seemed to have settled for “what the man says.” They’ve accepted the inevitable which really isn’t.
While I sound pessimistic, which is really more of a modest disappointment, I do have strong rays of hope. My hope is in my kids. I’ve heard people say that they would not bring kids into this rough and tumble world. But I see my five kids as hope for a new optimism. I see this new generation, those in their 20s and 30s, as having higher morals, a greater sense of social justice, a greater capacity for love; they are smarter, more curious about the universe, far less gullible than my generation (in the end). They are good people and people of vision, of hope, bringing hope to the entire cosmos.