An Anti-Climatic Sense of History

Dear D.L.D.,

Someone recently told me that what people don’t understand is that her generation is the future.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of generations. The arbitrary grouping that attempts to “fix” time in snapshots. Being born in between generations, I can’t find myself in any of the pictures. My children, as well, fall between the recorded chapters of history. Bystanders to The history: it is a strange – but perhaps privileged – point of view.

That said, there was a time when I also thought of the future as a fixed state to be achieved. I saw a hard line that divided – and would divide – the old from the new.

I don’t see the world like that any more: in segments that will tick by, more or less tolerably, until we reach what we’ve aimed for.

I believe the Buddha was right in that there is something fundamental in our nature that is determined to reject impermanence. But I suspect the rejection of this mark of existence (as the Buddhists call it) isn’t only experienced as suffering, but sometimes as hope.

I understand when young people see the world this way: hoping to achieve… utopia?

But I find it puzzling that people who have lived their lives through the culture’s arbitrary increments of “generations”, who have seen the pendulum swinging, still pin their hopes (and the responsibility) on youth to someday achieve the fixed and perfect future.

To be honest, sometimes I wonder if it is an extension of our culture’s worship of youth? And if sometimes I envy their hope? You lose that when you think you have learned all you can learn, know all you will know–

No. Wait. I don’t believe that. That is the cultural trope of closed-minded old people.

You lose hope when you live long enough to see that what you knew for certain – when you knew everything – turned out not to be true. And you decide that there is no reason to keep learning. This can happen at any age: Mid-life Crisis, Quarter-life Crisis, Teenage Nihilism.

But every moment is a future – every moment encompasses the contributions of all “generations” (and each generation’s internal contradictions) and all circumstances.

And every future slips by with every breath, unacknowledged.

No age has the corner on solipsism.


Life can survive in the constant shadow of illness, and even rise to moments of rampant joy, but the shadow remains, and one has to make space for it. – DIANE ACKERMAN


People keep describing these past months as “unprecedented”.

Seriously?

We measure reality in such small packages – our small collections of private experiences. Twenty years slip by, maybe another twenty… and from this tiny window we proclaim a a sum understanding of the human experience to determine the proper trajectory for (the organisation of) human behavior.

We don’t even glance sideways.
And if we do, we dismiss it: We are the future, after all.


You were the future once, too. And it slipped right past you, making your head spin.

I wonder if all that you clung to for comfort just made your suffering worse in the end?

Respectfully,
Ren

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