Today I Turn 45: So What Have I Learned?
I was born on June 15, 1971, at about 2:30 in the morning. Things were a lot different then and I grew up a child of the 70s and 80s. I was formed like clay in the 70s and then became an adult and, in many ways, what I am today, during the 80s. I remember the Cold War, got to see the end of it, but also saw the horrors that the Reagan era ushered in and how that has led to the disasters of today. I have seen a lot of good and a lot of bad.
In the end, though, what have I learned? At this age, when suddenly there seems like less years ahead than there was when I graduated college, shouldn't I have some great insight into life? Something to pass on to the people behind me?
The short answer, kids, is: no. Sorry, but no great insight ever arrives when you get older. Turns out, your parents have been wingin' it just as much as you have in your late teens, early 20s or throughout your 30s.
But that isn't the real answer. So, let's take a look.
Putting My Foot In My Mouth
One thing I have learned is that I am still as apt to let my emotions get away with me and say stupid things at 45 as I was at 18. I think my passionate rants are probably a little better put together and have more of an education and experience behind them, but they are no less lunatic.
A few weeks ago I may have suggested (ahem) that the boy who fell into the Harambe the gorilla's enclosure should have been shot. I even insanely defended it.
Yeah...not one of my better moments.
Look, yes, I love animals and generally prefer their company to most people, but obviously I am an uncle to two great kids and enjoy being around kids. I absolutely do not advocate that kids be shot. In the weeks since, I have calmed down, stepped back a bit from social media, and gotten a bit more sane.
I still mourn Harambe. He was a magnificent creature who should not have died in such a horrible way. I still wish that mom could express some remorse, but at least the little boy's grandmother did, so that's something.
Instead, I have turned my focus to help animals where I can. I think the time for zoos is past and maybe enclosures like that shouldn't exist. The zoo should have gotten the people away so Harambe was not agitated and perhaps methods such as water hoses or cannons could have scared him away while someone grabbed the child. We'll never know.
That being said, I sure put my foot firmly down my throat. I can say, then, I am very sorry about that. I should not have said what I said and I apologize.
So - what did I learn? That the taste of shoe leather and rubber still doesn't taste all that good even at 45.
Times Are Bad
People seem to say that the world is so much worse off now than it was 45 years ago. Given the tragedy that just happened in Orlando, it is hard to argue that. I certainly think that the mass shooting thing is a little out of hand, but I do not want to get into the gun debate just now - we can do that another time.
At the same time, step back. Let's look at June 1971 and try and compare. Yes, ISIS is bad, terrorism is bad, shootings are bad, the election seems crazy, people are upset and unrest is everywhere.
In June 1971, the Vietnam War was still in full swing. Protests were all over cities and college campuses. Just a couple years before I was born, there had been riots and violence at the Democratic National Convention in my hometown of Chicago. Just one year prior, in May of 1970, National Guard soldiers had opened fire at protesting students at Kent State and killed four. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young even sang about it. We were at war with a seemingly unstoppable force, gas prices were escalating, there was inflation rampant everywhere, no one trusted the White House or government to do the right thing.
The Manson Family had committed their heinous acts in 1969, just two years before I came into the world. Five years before, Charles Whitman had climbed to the top of a clock tower and killed 17 people on a beautiful hot, summer day. The Boston Strangler had terrorized that city in the early 60s.
I'm sure there were plenty who thought the world was ending.
This year, 2016, has sucked as far as celebrities dying. Bowie started it, then Alan Rickman, Prince and Ali. I am sure it seems unprecedented.
But let's look.
In October of 1970, Janis Joplin had died. A few weeks before that Jimi Hendrix has OD'd. Just a few years before I came into the world Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy and Malcolm X had all been gunned down. Jim Morrison was found dead in July of 1971, the same year I was born. Louis Armstrong and Duane Allman also died in 1971.
During the 70s, Son of Sam would terrorize New York. Crime levels in that city would skyrocket. There would be a blackout. Terrorists would kill the Israeli Olympic team in Munich. Patty Hearst and her "friends" would do their thing. There would be domestic terrorist incidents shrouded as protests. The Nixon administration would collapse in the greatest political scandal of the country's history.
Exactly when were the "Good Ol' Days" people are always pining about?
What does that tell us? It tells us that the world has always been a place of fear, death, chaos, corruption, politics, shady business, war and murder. There has always been bigotry, hatred and negativity, and yet there are also beautiful things. Many great things that we have done.
Change Moves Slowly
So, some great things have happened since 1971, but so many things have stayed the same. We must realize that change comes in small increments. These days people just want instant change, which probably comes from a society that can view anything, reach anyone, anywhere, anytime with something they hold in their hands. Our need for instant gratification is probably greater than ever.
The world doesn't work that way, though. We have to be in it for the long haul and we need to do what we can to change things, improve things, do things to make this world better not for rewards in a fictional "heaven" or a future that benefits us. Instead, we need to do it for others, for the future generations that will come up behind us and probably, when they reach 45, think their world is coming to an end.
So, my birthday wish? That we would slow down a little. Stop seeing the fear and arming ourselves and building walls. See how gorgeous this world is. See how amazing we all can be when we stop being selfish and start giving. Yes, start loving. We really could make this world an amazing place, if we could just get out of our own way and do it.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you buy a book, but I also hope you love that person next to you and say something nice to them, too.
BWA June 15, 2016