The transcendental generation. That’s what they’re called.The 80 and 90 year olds of today whose entire lives were grounded in spiritual belief that their existence matters beyond the grave. They are the last of a staple subculture whose coming of age helped to create a proud and stable nation bridled by unwavering faith and vision for America. Today, too many silently hope this will be their last election; the first-hand witnesses to decades of deep cultural decline and shallow technological incline, together leaving us here on the doorstep to the decade of their last goodbye. A generation who viewed hardship as a life expectation and survival as God ordained. Will we miss them? Future generations will never fully understand their contributions likely to be categorically erased, canceled by the generations before them. The now 60 and 70 year old children like me are all that will remain fighting against hope to keep their memory alive and the convictions of their generation transcendent, because indeed, that’s what they are and to us, will always be.
I returned bottles, mowed yards, cleaned windows and babysat possessed young children all night for a pittance to save for the better things in life. My parents taught me that doing things for others WERE the better things in life and that most of all, a little hard work in youth creates a decent adult, which is often its own reward.
No matter how far you’ve traveled, or the distance you’ve placed between your now and your past, with all the amends and erasures and changes you’ve made which are now habits, and the important difference you’ve since made in this world…You may again stumble around some unsuspecting corner in which you’re forced again to see the depravity you once called home, where you once believed you were living but indeed, were dying, in a coffin of your own making, silently begging for another nail.But that very moment,around the next corner,you’ll make its approach better armedwith greater humility, irrefutable dignity and unquestionable sobriety you momentarily forgot you had since earned from that same, shameful corner where you once lived.Addicts survive by the painful remembrances from where they came and the marvelous paths they are now traveling to earn one more day.
They don’t come home after work, buy you gifts, give you a kiss, or cuddle at night. They don’t tell you nice things, take you exotic places, to dinner, or hold your hand in the movie. They don’t say they love you, hug you, help when you need it or stand by your side in a crowd. They’re not much of a lover, poet, looker or dreamer and it’s been years since you were visible, though content to be alone and on your own. Then just when you’ve become accustomed to being without all these years, one day you may just find yourself glancing up at a stranger for the first time who mustered the courage to say hello when you could not. And at that moment, your imagination of how it’s been safer, better to be alone and unhurt suggests you just might have been mistaken too long. So you fumble a returned hello, an awkward smile, and feel the strange awakening of an ancient hope from where you left it so many years back when it first said hello and last said a cruel goodbye. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve been wrong about love all these years, because love always begins with a hello and never says never, because you’ll never ever know without finding the courage to try again.
Of all life experiences one remains entirely unknown. After millions of attempts across the ages to describe it from every conceivable perspective, unhinged fantasy and unlimited speculation in exquisite detail, unchallenged since the beginning of time, we know nothing more of it except for the promise that for as long as we live we never will.Sleep is a wonderful thing until it’s your last. And I still miss my friend, jealous of her fully enlightened state until mine arrives and we meet again to pick up where we left off. She always was and still is a memorable woman gone much too soon.
The young man was seated in the sun on the curb outside when he asked “Could I wash your windows for 50 cents?” In a hurry to get my iced tea I said “No, thanks” and walked past him into the store. The length of the line was consuming my valuable lunch hour until I noticed the disabled woman at the front of the line was 35 cents short. The cashier asked “Well, do you have the 35 cents lady?” Six handfuls of coins reached out to her in sync—everyone in line wanted to help, not only to move the line along faster, but to genuinely help. Humbled but embarrassed by our corporate act of kindness she declined our offers, took the loss and he closed the register, asking the woman in the scooter to get along. “Next?”We each waited for our turn at transacting and eventually, my four iced teas came to precisely $4. Change from my $5 bill, I kept the dollar in hand as I exited the store thinking how just minutes before, I’d turned down a 50 cent window wash from a man who wanted to work for it, yet gladly forked over four dimes for someone who couldn’t. It was one of those serendipity moments of humanity that cost me nothing but a cold iced tea and a buck for a guy who needed it a lot more than me. We all learned a lesson or two that day.
While filling my tank at the gas station, she came seeking change for hers, claiming it was on empty just down the street. I pulled out a $50 bill and said I’d fill her tank and even buy her a hot breakfast with the change but I just got off shift and need to call my partner who works this beat and has the gas can. She refused my offer and walked away. Turns out we were both wrong. She wasn’t really out of gas and I’m not really a cop, just a better liar.
I grew up in a family that tidied up the table before leaving the restaurant, pushed the shopping cart back to its place at the grocery store, returned the change when overpaid, and washed the dish in the sink even when it wasn’t ours. We never knew there were other options and never considered them lessons. Lessons were for learning deliberate choices of conscience between right and wrong, not simple and obvious courtesies of humankindness. Family’s not an important thing, it’s everything. The things that made America great have never changed. The human constitution has.
When you die what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured? What will matter is not what you bought but what you built. Not what you got but what you gave. What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught others. What will matter is your integrity and compassion, your courage to sacrifice, enrich and empower others by your example. What will matter is not your confidence but your character. Not how many people you knew, but how many will feel the deep loss of your departure. What will matter is not your memories but those of you that live on in the ones who loved you. What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom, and for what. A life lived with significance is not by chance or circumstance but by the gift of choices you made while you were here.-adapted from Rick Mann.