Life As We Know It: July 8, 2013

     I found myself in a conversation not long ago with a person quite a few years younger than me. This was an intelligent young man with a lively curiosity.

     Yet as we talked, I felt a sense of discomfort. Though he was not ignorant of history, he did not share my passion for the events that helped shape my life. I lived them; he did not.

     He was aware President John Kennedy had been assassinated. He read it in a book. He knew about Watergate, vaguely. Vietnam? We lost that one, right?

         Men on the moon? He accepted that it happened, but it might as well have been science fiction to him. Polio? What’s that? “I Love Lucy”? A blank stare.

         Suddenly it dawned on me that I know a lot of things people his age do not. And I realized something else: the things I know don’t make me wise, they just make me old.

         It’s an epiphany that comes to us all at a certain point in our lives. I still remember the feeling I got as a young 20-something the first time somebody called me “Mister” Walton. I was unprepared for it and a little embarrassed by it.

         Just as that experience did, my conversation with my young friend was a revelation that reminded me I am no longer who I was yesterday. It is simply one more rhythm in the cycle of life.

         Though I was born before World War II ended, events and names that mattered greatly to my parents were relatively unimportant to me when I was growing up.

         The Great Depression? Didn’t the banks run out of money or something?

        Rosie the Riveter? Tokyo Rose? Pearl Harbor? War bonds? FDR’s fireside chats? Words on a page.

         I have no idea what events will shape the context of my six grandchildren’s lives, but the day will come when the things that mattered most to them will matter a lot less to their grandchildren.

What will those events be?
         Another 9/11 attack? God forbid.
         A manned Mars landing?
         A cure for cancer?
         A Super Bowl win for the Cleveland Browns? Okay, so that one’s a stretch.

         Only one of my six grandchildren had been born by 9/11, and she was only 3. So none of them can yet fully comprehend the magnitude of that day and the significance years later of the death of Osama Bin Laden.

         Will my grandchildren one day look at their old smart phones and high-def TVs and wonder how they survived such primitive times? Count on it.

         While technology will continue to change our lives and theirs, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if all these gadgets we depend on so much had been invented in different order.

         Suppose that text messaging had come first, say 70 or 80 years ago, and that only now, early in the new millennium, did researchers discover a way to go one better and actually transmit the human voice? They could call it — yes! — a telephone! Talk about your “must have.”

         But why tinker with something we cannot control? The genie won’t go back in the bottle. My history has already been written. My grandchildren’s history has not.

         For now I plan to sit down with them at some point and tell them about Hula Hoops, Howdy Doody, Rocky Colavito, penny candy, doors that didn’t have to be locked, and why their grandfather, as a child, threaded crepe paper through the spokes of his bicycle tires for the Memorial Day parade in a small town called Sycamore, Ohio.

         As Ricky Ricardo might have put it, “Boppa, you got some ’splainin’ to do.”