By Tom Cardella
There’s an old song that haunts me sometimes. LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY. I was only 6 years old when it was written. Why this song? When it sneaks into my consciousness, it seems the saddest song I’ve ever heard. That’s what it’s like growing older. Hearing haunting melodies from a distant past.
Growing older is often about loss. Family. Friends. Old loves. Lost places. Sad places. Happy places. Everything lost to time. Time does not distinguish between the important and the unimportant.
To grow older is to find yourself grasping at relevance. There are few things worse than to become irrelevant. You want to know what irrelevance is? Just go into a room full of young people. Try to find a frame of reference. Of communality. I once did a sports talk show. A young caller asked me who I thought had the best throwing arm of any outfielder in the game. Without hesitating, I answered, “Carl Furillo.” I could sense the bewilderment from the caller. Who the hell was Carl Furillo? In obvious disappointment, the caller responded that he had someone else in mind and hung up. I don’t drive. I use a flip phone. I read books that are printed on paper. I am a living time capsule. Am I still relevant?
When we grow older, we can be fooled into thinking that the future is now. That we’re too old to have any meaningful tomorrows. Our tomorrows have been stolen from us. Anything that happens in 10 years is somebody else’s problem. But to yield to that belief is to wallow in self-absorption. It is to make ourselves the very thing that we don’t want to be — irrelevant. It is to forget that our generation is responsible in good part for what the future holds for the loved ones we will leave behind.
No one cares about what it was like when we were younger. The least relevant thing to the younger generation is how “tough” we had it. They don’t want to know about trolley cars or phonograph records. They don’t care that there was once a time when some of us fought and died or argued passionately over a small Asian country named VIETNAM. The Beatles songs are playing on Oldies stations. I am not forgiving youthful thinking that history began the day they were born. We felt that way also when we were young. Their reckoning with history will come soon enough. Just as it did for us.They will inevitably suffer their own disappointment when future generations show indifference to their past.
We must realize that we have a mission. It is up to us — the older generation — to keep life from becoming even more prone to cynicism. Today, hope is an endangered species. One of the most cynical statements of my lifetime was uttered by Sarah Palin. Palin once sneered, “How’s that hopey, changey thing working for you?” Oscar Wilde reportedly once said, “The fact that a man dies for a cause does not mean that cause was right.” But I would say to Ms. Palin, that once I lose that hopey, changey thing, I am lost, and so are the future generations to come. I would reply to Mr. Wilde, that because a cause dies, it doesn’t mean that cause was not just.
My generation should not be a participant in killing hope. It is true that by the time we reach old age, we tend to be more suspicious of “causes.” But fight it we must. We need to believe in causes as we grow older or become irrelevant. We have seen hope rise from despair before and we must believe it will rise again. We need to believe that the arc of history is just. That goodness triumphs over evil. Else we will become enablers of injustice and evil.
In doing so, we must fight the urge to yield to total self-interest. To go beyond, what’s in it for us. One of life’s great ironies is that my generation that has less to lose is most afraid of risk. We should be the great promoters of risk. Without risk, there can be no greatness. Without greatness, life must succumb to mediocrity.
We are watched carefully by those younger than ourselves. They mean well, but at times, they seem to be waiting for us to fail. Even the slightest lapse in memory is attributed to old age. Old age seems like a harbinger. The ultimate destination, the discard heap. Like the husks of old cars rusting in a junkyard. Old age. Where nothing is expected from us except that we not intrude too much on the business of the world. They promise to treat us kindly if, in return, we promise not to intrude too much on busy lives.
I hate the phrase “senior moment.” We use it ourselves. Blaming any lapse on a “senior moment” is not exculpatory, it’s damning. If we admit that any lapse in judgment or memory is due to a senior moment, then we as seniors lose credibility. We are viewed as unreliable. If we are to remain relevant, we must be viewed as reliable. Reliability is our only coin in trade.
My generation is the last best hope. The hope that not all hope is lost. Like it or not, we are the guardians of hope.