While chatting on the phone with a friend recently, we noted that we often have no idea, these days, who people named in headlines are - especially young movie and music stars along with, in my case, sports stars. Some examples:
How Lizzo Does That
Trump again attacks ‘Will & Grace’ actress Debra Messing
Kaitlynn Carter Celebrates Her Birthday
Lizzo? Debra Messing? Kaitlynn Carter? I don't know who these people are and although Debra Messing's name is vaguely familiar, I'm unfamiliar with her work or what she looks like.
We are born into whatever cultural zeitgeist predominates in the place we are born. We identify with the famous, the infamous and celebrities of our early childhood. As teenagers, we were eager to embrace writers, performers, musicians and other public people who were coming to be the shared touchstones of our generation.
For people our age now – that is, elders - we don't quite know what to make of a young person who has never heard of, for example, Frank Sinatra. Even if you were not a fan, he was such a force in our youth that what do you mean you've never heard of Sinatra seems a logical question.
In my case, Sinatra was of my mother's generation but young enough that his celebrity continued a long time into my adulthood. So for a younger person today, say 20 years old, Sinatra is two generations removed from her world.
Have you heard of any important people from your grandparents' youth? I didn't think so.
A week or two ago, TGB reader, Tom Delmore, sent an excerpt from a 1993 book by Frederick Buechner who, Wikipedia tells us, is an American writer, novelist, poet, autobiographer, essayist, preacher, and theologian. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than 30 books.
The book today is Whistling in the Dark – A Doubter's Dictionary. For easier reading onscreen, I have re-paragraphed the excerpt that Tom sent.
I think it explains in a lovely and loving way why we so often prefer the company of people our own age and why it is necessary for the young to gradually supplant older generations as the movers and shakers in culture, the arts, business, politics, etc.
”When you hit sixty or so, you start having a new feeling about your own generation. Like you they can remember the Trilon and Perisphere, Lum and Abner, ancient Civil War veterans riding in open cars at the rear of Memorial Day parades, the Lindbergh kidnapping, cigarettes in flat fifties which nobody believed then could do any more to you than cut your wind.
“Like you they know about blackouts, Bond Rallies, A-stickers, Kilroy was Here. They remember where they were when the news came through that FDR was dead of a stroke in Warm Springs, and they could join you in singing "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön" and "The Last Time I Saw Paris." They wept at Spencer Tracy with his legs bitten off in Captains Courageous.
“As time goes by, you start picking them out in crowds. There aren't as many of them around as there used to be. More likely than not, you don't say anything, and neither do they, but something seems to pass between you anyhow.
“They have come from the same beginning. They have seen the same sights along the way. They are bound for the same end and will get there about the same time you do.
“There are some who by the looks of them you wouldn't invite home for dinner on a bet, but they are your compagnons de voyage even so. You wish them well.
“It is sad to think that it has taken you so many years to reach so obvious a conclusion.”
I don't know about half of Buechner's references in this piece. The film, Captains Courageous, was released in 1937, four years before I was born. Without a great deal of research, I cannot know how it was reviewed, if it was a success and how people talked about it as I can know with most movies of my generation.
And what in the world are A-stickers, flat fifties, the Trilon and Perisphere, along with a couple of others?
Undoubtedly these holes in my knowledge have to do with the fact that Frederick Buechner has 15 years on me, nearly a generation, so our cultural touchstones don't match up.
But his observation that we are often more comfortable with our compagnons de voyage, our age mates, answers a question or two about growing old for me.