My mom was a champion toilet paper hoarder. It became a family joke but we all were happy to indulge her. We knew she had lived through the depression and spent some of her earliest years separated from her siblings because the family couldn’t afford to live together; the eight children were divided up and distributed to several relatives’ houses for a while.
Then, as a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, she lived through the shortages and anxieties of World War II. We were happy to buy her some extra packages of toilet paper whenever she asked.
I’ve thought a lot about the lives our parents and grandparents lived, what those experiences were like for them and how such monumental events must have shaped and molded them in deep ways. I’ve been remembering her stories lately, thinking about how much her generation endured during those long, dark years.
And I’ve pondered the historic changes in society that emerged from those turbulent years; movements that changed our shared society for the better.
We also are living through some monumental events these days and I figure it’s our turn.
How many generations of our mothers and fathers took their turn, enduring chaotic times? All of them, I would say. Every generation has had its own battles with epidemics and civil unrest, with injustices and corruptions, with dust bowls and hundred year floods, with wars and uneasy peace, with painful choices between collaborations and dissidences.
Now it’s our turn and I keep wondering how history will record what we have done with this our time.
It seems to me too many of us have wimped out, complaining incessantly about the difficulties that have upset our lives. Too many of us are impatient with hardships that our parents had no choice but to patiently endure. Too many of us are acting like spoiled children.
It seems to me an awfully lot of us had been lulled into an illusion that our society was doing mostly okay. And then, all of a sudden, we knew that it wasn’t. Inequities of all sorts are on full display everywhere we turn and we are right to be disillusioned.
Except in this case, the loss of our illusions might well be our salvation.
As those illusions and blinders keep dropping away, I am seeing an awful lot of courage and integrity and determined perseverance. I see truth telling and soul-searching and humility. I see kindness and care and compassion.
Of course I’m also seeing plenty of the other: selfish, self-centered self-righteousness. There is plenty of pushback and too many noisy demands to return to “the good old days.”
These whiny crys are nothing new.
But I have to believe there is some newness in this our moment. That something fresh is budding. That the groundswell of hope is deeper, wider and louder than the voices of resentment.
It’s our turn to dig into this muddy mess of a moment and start planting seeds of positive change, of an equitable society, of a future with hope.
One of my favorite wise teachers says it this way:
I urge those of you who cling to your dream of “the good old days”—good for YOU anyway—to take a nice long nap and dream on, dream on.
The rest of us will stay awake and help midwife the rebirth of America, hoping that our national nausea in this moment is just another symptom that our country is pregnant with change.Parker J. Palmer
I miss my mom but I’m glad she’s not here to live through this time. She had her turn; now it’s mine.
I wonder what our grandparents would think about how we are handling things if they could see us now.
I wonder what our grandchildren will think when they read about us in their history books.
Parker J. Palmer, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Growing Old (Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2018) 137.