Boomer Legacy Time

By Don Rollins

It’s official, my fellow Boomers: We’re just about ’round the bend. That acoustic version of “Layla” should have been all the warning we needed — that, and an Ozzy reality show — but now that even our facelifts need facelifts and our tummy tucks need tummy tucks, I think we’re starting to get it.

Case in point: a bud of mine had to get himself a new acoustic guitar. Something for a rapidly aging flower child with rapidly advancing arthritis. Something a bit more geezer-friendly. On the spiritual plane, I suppose it’s just another reminder that, stick around long enough, you lose pretty much everything. You lose your eyesight. Your reflexes. Your muscle mass. Even your mojo. (South Carolinians and other Mark Sanford watchers, insert your own joke here.)

Sticking with this guitar-as-spiritual-guide theme for just a moment, my friend says that the next step is an electric; “White Rabbit”, “Ohio” and “War Pigs” might as well be “Peace Train” apart from a little Alternating Current and an old school distortion pedal. (As an extra benefit, my friend says an electric ax is last-gasp, generational self-defense. Says he can’t put the hair back on his shoulders or the elasticity back in his fingers, but at least he’ll be able to crank the amp to a 7 and even the score with the gangsta-wannabe, Gen Y neighbors.)

But I digress. Boommeisters, subtle spiritual messengers like failing fingers exist to remind us that we’re another grandkid or two away from slurping Jell-O and playing Gin down at the Senior Center. We’ve already become the people we swore we’d never trust; we’re that close to being the people who raised the people we swore we’d never trust.

So, before we get fitted for walkers with Dead stickers on the poles, maybe it’s time for a little life review in the form of a question: What do we have to show for our (more or less) half-century?

Depends. (Pun entirely intended.) Boomer research is legion these days (Lord, how we love examining ourselves), but it’s also highly subjective. Did we save the world with all that attitude, or did we just indulge our angst? Did we produce a an era of great music, or were we just stoned free? Did we rescue the nation from the likes of Nixon, or did we just grease the skids for milquetoast liberal Baby Boomers like Clinton and Obama?

Dunno. But for all the subjectivity of the researchers, historians and think tank commentators, two broad categories have emerged.

If you’re the hard data, economic type, perhaps you’re inclined to go with the fact that we’ve become the wealthiest generation in American history. In a November 2008 article from US News and World Report, Emily Brandon tells us that our sheer numbers, large-scale injection of women into the workforce and aggregate increase in education have put us at the top of the heap. Maybe that’s our big accomplishment: We expanded and cashed in on unprecedented domestic and foreign capital, thereby shaping the world market in our own image. That’s School of Thought I.

Or maybe you believe that what sets Boomers apart is our legendary Question Authority ethos: Selma; Vietnam; Watts; Woodstock; Stonewall; Roe; Wounded Knee II; Watergate; The Pentagon Papers. Sure, we’re on the hook for Reagan, disco and the designated hitter, but give us some love, here; we didn’t settle for the institutional bigotry, militarism, sexism and homophobia that was, in the main, the worldview we inherited. Perhaps that’s our generation’s contribution — a religion of certainty about a better world. That’s School of Thought II.

More likely, you think the truth lies somewhere between. Our relative wealth came complete with environmental degradation, wholesale job exportation and a disproportionate, upward cash flow that should make Jim Bunning blush. On our watch, wars have been launched, regulations abandoned and the social contract shredded — all in the name of the free market. Sure, our generation may have more marbles than any before, but we came by them in some highly nefarious ways.

School Two has a shadow side of its own. We saw in every institution the thumbprint of “The Man”, yet expected quality government down the line? We developed, consumed and promoted synthetic designer drugs, then wondered why our kids were in and out of rehab? We told the world to “make love, not war” … and promptly proceeded to CIA our way through Central America, UN-flaunt our way across Grenada and Big Oil our way through Iraq? Boomer Nation, we did indeed impact the world for the better, but we also loved our excesses.

Every generation has to walk the line between the material and the spiritual. Legacy is what we call that. Boomer cohorts, it’s our legacy time. Before we vacate our corner offices and head for more golf-friendly climes, what say we act like spiritually mature, world wise, coots-in-training. If we have but one more good march left in us, let’s use it to make amends — small and large — for what we’ve taken along the way to our old age.

It’s legacy time.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2010

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