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Give us the torch

Fri, Dec 6th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

Last time we met, I talked about the power and significance behind the untimely and horrific death of our 35th President, John F. Kennedy. This time, I’d like to reflect on slightly happier times that occurred a few years earlier. In what is considered one of the most famous inaugural addresses of any president in history, Kennedy said this:

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.”

He was, of course, referring to the generation that would soon inherit the America who, like himself, had fought a terrible war against clear evil and had been successful. This generation was given the torch from the previous one that saw an even more horrible war with tragically misguided goals and reasons, and had suffered through the depression of the 1920s in all of its alcohol-fueled depravity and then the capital-D Depression brought on by that extravagance and depravity in 1929 when the stock market crashed. That generation, Kennedy said, must be ready to pass the torch to the new one.

At the time this was considered a bold move: Indeed, Kennedy’s decision not to wear the traditional top hat as he walked to his inauguration was considered itself a bold move for a bold new president of a bold new generation. Remember, the president JFK was replacing had been born in 1890. In the 19th century. Where Eisenhower was old-century stability, Kennedy was a plastic-fantastic modern rocket-powered dynamo... and this speech said exactly what he had come to do. He was going to take up that torch and lead America forward out of a terrible war and an uneasy peace with the USSR.

I suppose the same could be said for any moment of generational transition, but I can’t help but feel we are building to another momentous occasion like that in the present day. We have a young generation, all plastic-fantastic with their iPhones and their Twitters and Googles poised to inherit an uneasy America with more uneasy peaces and troublesome allies and financial trouble and far-too-recent ghosts of horrible wars. The current ruling generation, the Baby Boomers, have seen this country through its fair share of ups and downs but, just as we could not fathom Dwight Eisenhower presiding over the Beatles, we can’t think of Baby Boomers representing the age of Lady Gaga. It’s time: you did your work, you served the country, now it’s our turn.

We’d like the torch, please.

We’re not the young, stupid little kids you still see when you look at us. I’m 28, for Pete’s sake. I’ve been struggling with middling jobs and a difficult job market for nearly a decade now, so the argument that I’m “some dumb kid” doesn’t really hold water anymore. You should see the gray hair I discovered over Thanksgiving; I’m practically Gandalf. There’s a ragged hand, in the tattered sleeve of a 12 year-old hooded sweatshirt (bought on discount from the school store, before the economy crashed and made its diplomas basically useless) that is reaching up, desperately, grasping and trying to catch a spark from that torch.

As we near the Christmas season, the time of giving, I can think of no better present than a spark, an ember, to be given to us. Give us that mailroom job, even though we’re overqualified. Don’t roll your eyes when you hear us talk about $20,000 in student loans. Don’t think we’re above this or below that just because of who we are, because who we are isn’t who you think we are... it’s who we used to be.

My wife said to me only a few days ago that the life she had planned after marriage couldn’t exist anymore, and when I asked her why, she told me it was because “that world didn’t exist anymore.” We’re not too good for this, or too bad for that, we just want to feel that fire from the torch; and if there’s anyone who still says something is beneath them, then feel free to hold that torch away for a while. Trust me, it gets cold awful quick, and soon you realize that a job is a job, a life is what you make it, and flipping burgers like you did in high school sounds like paradise compared to the bitter cold of uncertainty. Hey, at least the grill’s warm.

In the words of Kennedy, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” All that we’re asking is to be given a chance.

So... spare a spark?

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