We like the tone of this look back on what our generation has lived through. It is by retired editor Alan Paul of Hawthorne, New Jersey, and it ties in with his newest book, a collection of essays with a unique spin on our lives.
If, like me, you are a member of the so-called “Baby Boom” generation, and if, like me, you are still existing on the more desirable side of the sod, give yourself a heartfelt pat on the back. (This assuming, of course, that unlike me, your arthritic shoulder joints will allow such a kinesiologically challenging movement.) You’ve earned this display of self-pride, in large measure because you have survived — perhaps even thrived — during particularly turbulent times.
You were born after the “War To End All Wars,” into one of the great feel-good periods in American history… and it’s been pretty much downhill from there. Turns out that the War to End All Wars was actually a war-generator, powering numerous conflicts around the world — both hot and cold — during our tenure on the planet. We are the generation that sought shelter under our desks at school during nuke attack drills, prayed fervently for our lives as the Cuban missile crisis unfolded, saw a beloved president, a charismatic civil rights leader, and a youthful presidential candidate succumb to assassins’ bullets. And I’m not even out of the Sixties yet!
I think you get my point: we’ve lived through many harrowing events during what was billed as the “Aquarian Age,” the epoch in the astrological timeline characterized by relative harmony and well-being, during which humanity takes control of the Earth. We actually experienced relatively little of the harmonious stuff, as I recall, but we sure did take control of the planet! And I would propose that we essentially messed her up, to the point where Mother Nature herself would hardly recognize her home.
But in spite of all that (or perhaps because of it), I find myself at this point in my life concentrating on what’s been righteous during my stay here. Perhaps that’s a product of the aging process: we tend to accentuate the positive as we age, while eliminating the negative as much as we are able. It’s a doctrine which, if followed religiously by humankind from Day One, would no doubt have yielded an infinitely better result here on Earth.
When my daughter Carolyn was but a wee lass, we used to vacation each year for a couple weeks at the Jersey Shore. Going “down the Shore” is what we locals say when we refer to travelling to one of the many towns that lie, like broken seashells, along the 217 miles of ocean-lapped land from Sandy Hook to Cape May. On the Seaside Heights Boardwalk, there used to be an arcade game called “Frog Bog,” in which the gamer would launch an ill-fated synthetic frog from a catapult, with the aid of a large rubber-headed mallet. The idea was to land said frog neatly on one of several plastic lily pads which were circling uniformly, if frenetically, around the bog.
It wasn’t as easy as it may sound: the frogs were ornery (as ornery as a synthetic frog can be anyway); the lily pads rotated quite swiftly; and the catapult and mallet were, by turn, skittish and unwieldy. It took a strong steady hand, a sharp eye, and the mental acumen of a college-level physics professor to land that pesky frog dead-center on one of those crazily careening lily pads.
My daughter became addicted to this game and would play it more or less constantly for the two weeks we were down the Shore. Over time she became so good at it that she won virtually every time she played — to the extent that our basement and attic are, still today, choked full of stuffed animals of various sizes and numerous species.
In retrospect, the Frog Bog has become for me a metaphor for life itself, especially as exemplified during the reign of the Baby Boomers. What life came down to for us (and, to be sure, for future generations as well) was deciding whether we wanted to be the bogged frog or the mallet. In the song El Condor Pasa, introduced by Simon and Garfunkel circa 1970, the dynamic duo croon, “I’d rather be a hammer than a nail. Yes, I would, if I could, I surely would.”
Truly, words to live by.
You can buy Alan’s book “Confuchsia: An Early Bird’s Tale: A Bedtime Story Reader” here.