I have been thinking a great deal about a Chuck Palahniuk quote that I read some time ago. He said that our generation has had no great war, no great depression. He described our war as a spiritual one, our lives as our depression. This statement could easily be dismissed as destructively bleak and yet he highlights some key truths about the generations emerging and building lives in the world at present. In my case my grandparents, and even parents, had known war in one form or another, an experience that fundamentally altered their world views, acquainting them with the notion of making sacrifices for something greater than their own comfort or personal destinies. They grew up in a world where the individual’s life was not divorced from that of the generations that had preceded and followed it.
I, on the other hand, have seen the cult of the individual grow stronger from one year to the next in my lifetime. Carving a path for myself in a society in which the individual is driven to live for his or her own comfort and fulfillment, replacing rather than fixing and building pristine picket fences around all of the parts of us too messy or unsettling to share. I often think of my grandparents, filled with admiration for the lives they lead and the legacy that they left first and foremost through their children and grandchildren. Furthermore, faith was their highest passion. Soren Kierkegaard said that many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further. The approach my grandparents took to life seemed purer, more focused and I turn to look at it as something distant – an ideal on a skyscraper pedestal. When I was younger I regarded this distance, and the differences between myself and the generations that went before me, with disdain. I too, as Jim Morrison, was part of that generation wanting new symbols, new people, new names – desperately trying to divorce myself from my predecessors.
Each day I notice the fingerprints of my parents and grandparents on my identity more and more, with this comes an ever-increasing awareness of my own responsibility to live for the generations yet to come. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Each age, it is found, must write its own books; or rather, each generation for the next succeeding.”