I bought a book this summer, one I’d been wanting for a while. Got it at a library inventory sale on Saint Simon’s Island. Hundreds of books, each $2 (or 3 for $5), and the selection was impressive. Art books. History books. Cookbooks. Textbooks. Those old, horrible collections of poetry that no one buys except for libraries and people who simply have impulse control problems when it comes to purchasing books. I meandered through the tables and tables of books until I finally saw it.
Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation.
Understand, this book is fourteen years old, so it’s not like I haven’t had ample opportunity to purchase it before. I just never happened to have the correct amount of spending money when those opportunities presented themselves.
But on that day, I had the right amount of money: $2.00.
So it became mine.
I started reading the book, and enjoyed it, but got distracted by life and other trivialities. Long story short, the book has been sitting in my office, staring at me mournfully for the last six weeks, it’s subtle red, white and blue cover just begging me to pick it up and re-establish our book-reader bond.
I really should finish it, if for no other reason than I dearly love the people of that generation. I believe they represent what was best about our country: self-sacrifice, hard work, determination, perseverance, ingenuity. Without taking pot shots at other generations, I would daresay that they were the culmination of the entire American experiment, the proof of our philosophical pudding.
Now, that generation is getting older. I’ve buried quite a few of them, and will do so again in the coming years. They are passing into the fog of history, becoming more and more a footnote to the current age. One might weep for them, because of what they represent, and what we will lose when they are gone.
One might. But one needn’t.
There is a generation coming that I think will match that Greatest Generation in terms of character. Sure they are a bit spoiled right now. And maybe they use their iPhones an awful lot. And they have the unseemly habit of using text speak in formal writing.
But they brim with idealistic realism (for a more thorough definition of the term, read this great post by Carson T. Clark) and dream bigger dreams than the two generations before them. Empowered by the Internet and its open door to information, ideas and resources, I believe that they will be the ones who think differently about age old issues and discover new age solutions. I think they will be the ones who, rather than playing the parlor game of politics, put on their work boots and build something that matters.
Lately, I’ve come to realize just how much I sing their collective praises. I find them refreshing because they ask questions, they seek answers, they resist the edict to “just do it.” They want more than just some of the empty promises of the last thirty years – that prosperity equals happiness, for instance, or that more government solves all our problems – and use their imaginations to dream of a better world.
Their taste in music kind of sucks, but hey – you take the good with the bad.
I have hope for the future and want to see them do well. It’s why I teach. It’s why I’m a student pastor. It’s why I read and listen twice as much as I talk. Because this generation needs nurturing. It needs encouragement. It needs room to do and experiment and fail and do again, without fear of being shut down. This generation, I believe, marks a significant shift within the cultural fabric of our country, and we’d best not be slow to see the change.
My grandparents were The Greatest Generation, and I don’t think history will take that title away from them. But if Twitter stays around long enough, I think the ones behind us will at least be called The > Generation.
I believe – I hope – it will fit.