23 Sep Ode to the Tweeners
I won’t be able to attend my fortieth high school reunion next year. I’m grieving it, because I not only love seeing my old friends, but I am also stirred by the uniqueness of our generation.
A great deal of attention has been lavished on both the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. This is as it should be. There is no denying the culture-transforming force that the nearly eighty million-strong Boomers are, nor is there any denying that the Millennials are a demographic and economic force to be reckoned with. Together, they number nearly two hundred million souls, and we will all live in the wake of their needs, interests, and pains for decades to come. So be it.
There are some of us, though, who don’t fit neatly into either of these somewhat narrow, academic categories. We were born between the two great surges in the population charts, and we have our own distinct experience. It has prepared us for stepping now into the power years of our lives. Let me explain.
I was born in the summer of 1958. Though the textbooks call me a Baby Boomer, I was only eleven when the sixties came to an end. True, I live in the aftereffects of that revolutionary decade—as every generation now does—but I was only five years old when John Kennedy was shot and when the Beatles landed in New York. I was seven during the Watts riots, eight during the hazy California Summer of Love, and nine when Dr. King and Robert Kennedy were killed. It all ended just as I was beginning to realize it was ever there. I bought my first Beatles’ cassette two weeks before they broke up and learned more about Woodstock from the movie than I ever learned while it was happening.
Like others of my generation, I was too young for Vietnam and too old for the Gulf War. When I graduated from high school in the year of the nation’s bicentennial, 1976, the typical Boomer was already thirty, married, having children, and perhaps remodeling an old house, so it had enough room for the wine cellar, the pasta machine, and the cherished LP collection.
My generation took a different path. Initially, we were heading in the direction the Boomers launched us. As I recall the culture of my huge, suburban Des Moines high school, we were affluent, pleasure seeking, and brazen. But we learned quickly. Though many of us were from homes beset by divorce, we now value marriage and family in the same way the World War II generation did. My friends from high school call and talk about the happiness of their twenty-five year marriages. They celebrate the joy of their large families and of living in the same house for decades. They’ll be happy to live there until they die.
The Boomers, by contrast, were perpetual seekers who changed jobs, changed spouses, changed houses, and changed visions more than any other American generation. Clearly, many of my generation decided to break from that history. Intriguingly, I don’t remember much religion happening in our school. We were probably just normal kids for our age. Now the emails from my old buddies are filled with exhortations to pray for a grieving friend or expressions of thanks to God that we are all still alive. Age brings the spiritual into focus.
If we have taken the best and checked the worst of the Boomers, we have also absorbed much of the intelligence and drive that experts tell us mark the Millennials. The people I went to school with are savvy, successful, and street-smart. They are about to take the lead in their companies or their schools or their governments, and I expect we will hear great things from them as they hit their leadership stride in their fifties and sixties. My guess is that they will provide the cultural glue between the younger Boomers and the emerging Millennials, making nearly every kind of venture more successful than it would have been without them. This finesse has come to them, to us, because we have lived between the two great demographic mountains of recent American history, and we possess a bit more—what is it? balance? even-handedness?—than those who come before and after.
This may be a small point, but it is one I make with affection—and with an historian’s eye for the meaning of each passing generation. America is not merely defined today by the passing of the Greatest Generation, the aging of the Boomers, and the uncertain rise of the Millennials. She works, in part, because some of us are “Tweeners,” and we are just stepping onto the stage of our greatest decades.
Whatever happens, I love them—these smart, laughing, gifted souls who may have sensed with me that we were something special because we came of age in ’76, a year of remembrance and hope, a year in which reflections on past and future left a deep imprint.
I won’t be at my high school reunion in 2016, but I’ll be celebrating both my old friends and all those of our generation. I hope we’ll take our unique blend of gifts and experience into the future and make the historic contributions we are destined to make. I hope we fashion a legacy from the best of the Boomers, the best of the Millennials, and the best of what our unique place in history has given us.