Our Beautiful Youth and the American Dream
With 10 bologna sandwiches, a 12-pack of Gatorade, two guitars, and a penchant for something better, my 19-year-old and his buddy headed out today for the West. Their destination — 1200 miles to the west — is a place they love. It’s a place where my son was fortunate enough to be able to grow up, kiss the sky of eternity, and ponder it at a tender, impressionable age. He knows what he loves and a big part of him doesn’t seem to be looking for it anywhere else but inside. This is amazing to me because it wasn’t my experience.
I can only imagine the feeling he will get as he crosses great rivers and the dry line. I can almost feel his exuberation as he comes barreling over that big hill at the end of an exhausting Kansas. I can feel him see the snowcaps of the Rockies for the first time, music blaring, blood pumping, as the thought of Colorado summer nights and girls by the river waft through his mind. I can see the moon in his eyes, hanging there aloft in the daylight, swimming like some ghostly jellyfish in an ocean of blue sky. I can see the sea of grasses laid before him infused with the sound of the spring meadowlarks. I can feel his dreams. And they are strikingly different from what mine were at his age.
At least he is traveling by car. For me it was the same 10 sandwiches, a backpack, hitchhiking thumb, two tabs of acid, a flask, bag of weed and a hole in my heart. He doesn’t seem to need that stuff. The only difference between him and me in that regard is that his upbringing was grounded in humility, endless space, and a sense of powerlessness that I never had. The youth of today seems different. Their dreams seem small and grounded. They have seen the limitations of dreams in the world around them and have had to step back into themselves a bit more.
They know the dice are loaded. They know the fight is fixed. Higher Education is a scam. There is little possibility of being a “have” unless that’s already who you are. But they seem to be working with that. They seem to have settled back into the only thing they have control over, which is being something they love or naturally aspire to.
They have fallen back on banjos, sustainable food, craft beer and a hipster ideal. On some level, behind the handlebar mustaches, tattoos, gauges and ego identification is a sensibility grounded in something more important than money and success. Can it be obnoxious sometimes? Yes. But I feel in some ways it’s a hope for the future that might have the potential to make America somewhat great again. The whole thing seems to be grounded in an Ideal that there is something more important than money. That money will be the result of “it” naturally — not the other way around. And if it’s not, well then that’s OK too.
A lot of people bitch about the hipsters. What the hell? The hipsters are a result of the great swindle — a backlash of the fleecing of America — the dream gone dead, and a great greed that sold everything down the river for a dollar and a back-alley blow job.
I get the impression from them that there is a feeling of no escape, and that we have to start building this thing from the ground up again right here. They have the wherewithal to tell you about it calmly and collectedly. There is a wisdom there that I never had. It’s a dream still the same, minus the desperation to fill a God-sized hole in your gut.
The dream for me was in the end about escape. Whether I knew it or not, subconsciously, I bought into it hook, line, and sinker. Maybe it was the 70s, 80s, or 90s (we are all victims of our times, no doubt) or maybe was it just me? Even in my counterculture musings and motivations of art and music, books or freedom — the big dream was always there lurking to poison the promise of a moment laid bare. I never got caught up enough in my idealism to miss the smell of the ever-looming pot of gold there hanging out at the end of the subliminal shit-starved rainbow.
My son doesn’t have that. His friends don’t have that. They seem to be hunkered down in a reality of the world and themselves that I never had, and I think that is a good thing — a true gift. There was a kind of sick ambition and hunger to fill myself up from the outside that the culture of my upbringing seemed to instill in me. No one seemed to be able to escape it.
Does this generation know they are lucky to be Americans? You bet. There is a part of them that knows that for sure. Technology has laid the world at their doorstep to reveal their good fortune. There is a subliminal gratitude that seems to come off them as well.
They also know that technology has robbed us all blind.
I don’t know — this is all just an observation — but I have been trying to figure them out. And when I talk to others parents of young men and women I get the same kind of uncanny, “I can’t believe they are real” response. These kids give me something to look up to, which is something I never had. I never thought I would be saying that. The whole honor-thy-father-and-mother thing doesn’t apply. They seem to know the only way to honor someone else is to honor themselves first. That’s something I never had. Honoring myself was about honoring my dreams and the imagined result of my dreams first and foremost. I was told that I had to make something out of myself, which implied some kind of deficiency on my part. I get the feeling that these kids know that they have everything they need right inside themselves. No one I knew had that when I was that age.
So today, as I resign myself to the tasks at hand, I’ll be thinking of my son and his buddy speeding across this great land. I will smell the diesel and the blacktop. I will be grateful that they have been able to show me the soundness and openness of their own hearts. I will be grateful for the example that they have given me. And I will know what pride is in an extremely pure sense. I am proud of them because they have the strength and courage to be and love themselves. And I’m proud and grateful that I was given the gift to let my son know that he was enough where he stands … without the dream … all along.
If that isn’t grace working in my life, then I don’t know what is.