In fact, she overdosed and is in a vegetative state. Please, for the good of everyone, please make no effort to revive her. She has been hanging around waiting for that super brownie that would take her to the high that could finally put the 1960’s behind us, just as Ken Kesey promised that her ultimate altered state was all that was needed to end that dreadful experience. Every disappointment of that decade of protest, uncompromising angry protest, dragged the election of 2016 down the drain that the reluctant fat lady had blocked like a hippie hair ball.
I have used Kesey's line many times in the past to assure everyone that Minerva’s owl was still on that perch, waiting and watching. I have explained to anyone that would listen that the revolution of the 60’s was not a stoned orgy of free love and harmonious daisy chains. A decade of confrontation between families and colleagues without the respite of compromise or mutual respect deprived me of any description that evokes harmony. Our revolution included burning draft cards, burning bras and burning bridges. The baby boomer generation reacted to World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the cold war by seeking peace, love, harmony and good reefer declaring unconditional war on any and all who opposed them, including half of their own generation. Both sides of every issue learned conflict without resolution, denigration of our opposition and a scorched earth approach to advancing our causes. Relationships were reduced to the binary choice between us and them.
Ignoring all of the bad habits of my generation allowed me to tell my son how glad I was that Bill Clinton had defeated George Bush in 1992, not because of policies, but because it marked the end of my parents’ generation in the White House. I had hope that as we matured we had learned to take our ideals and turn them into solutions for problems. This fall, I had to apologize to my son for a generation’s failure to recognize that their bigotry has poisoned our political system. Two baby boomers raled away at each other for months failing to demonstrate even the smallest recognition of the others’ humanity staying true to their 60’s upbringing proving the failure of a generation to learn from their mistakes and correct their unfortunate habits. I longed for the generation-xer with leadership skills and a large broom to emerge from the shadows to sweep the last of boomers away with the turmoil that we seem so determined to create.
It could have been so different. Brilliant minds and beautiful voices inspired the changing attitudes of the boomers. Martin Luther King had a dream of peaceful coexistence. Bob Dylan offered a place in his dreams if only he could be in ours. King’s life was one of too many that was shortened by an assassin and Dylan generated criticism for living long enough to be the first singer/songwriter to be honored with a Nobel Prize for literature. The inspiration provided by those figures who laid the foundation of change through cooperation and mutual respect proved impossible to realize in practical terms. Rather than peace, love and understanding, we embraced turmoil, animosity and no quarter given. I remember the big ideas, but continue to suffer the pain from the anger those harmonious ideals generated.
Our culture pits theologians against scientists over Darwin, climate change and primary research. Our media offers platforms to foment wars against drugs, women and Christmas. We drag our teachers into a conflict between learning and testing, science and theology or culture and tradition. Instead of creating a more balanced economic structure, our economic models wage endless war on top down or bottom up stimulus. We rejected the 60’s notion of synergy in favor of binary arguments that lacked compromise. Our Hatfields became democrats and our McCoys became republicans, liberals versus conservatives. It seems that boomers cannot even enjoy ice cream without arguing the worth of chocolate and vanilla.
The stories of our 2016 election cycle are the same from both sides. They begin with some form of the sentence, “I cannot understand how anyone can vote for …” From this beginning, the story continues with a stereotype of why the other candidate cannot be taken seriously. The core principal of all bigotry involves a stereotype and a refusal to understand how another human is able to tolerate life in that stereotype. Sadly, the boomer generation is guilty of raising this kind of confrontation to an art form. We can take almost any word, ad “ism” or “ist” to the end of to stereotype and denigrate almost anyone. In a moment of populism in the electorate, the campaign focused on the misogynist or feminist personalities of two individuals who were trapped in their 60’s roots in search of a sense of empathy. Binary thinking overwhelmed the possibility of progress with a desire to resurrect old standards and old wounds, what the combatants had done in the 1990’s.
On election night 2016, there were reports of the Canadian immigration website crashing, presumably from an inability to handle all of the inquiries from the US. Even though most of my great grandfather’s descendants still live in Ontario, I really like hockey and I have a fondness for beer, I am not tempted to migrate back across the border. Some would say that I could not tolerate the colder climate, but I am a Washington Capitals fan and I understand 40 years of gut wrenching disappointment. I understand getting back up on those skates (figuratively only) and getting back to work to make next year the cup winner (think Cubs). I understand the grief associated with snatching defeat from certain victory.
Still, I cannot imagine the number of tears shed by women after the election of Donald Trump. Something about the number of stars in the sky comes to mind, but still seems somewhat on the low side. Too many of those tears are accompanied by fear of what is waiting in all the tomorrows after January 2017. I understand the disappointment and sense of loss (remember, Capitals fan) that follows the shock of failing to firmly grasp a goal that was so close. I can even understand a touch of fear and loathing ever time you encounter a man wearing one of those red hats. I understand that grieving takes a toll and it takes some time. We know that grieving is a process, a cruel mistress that demands we experience all of the emotional turmoil before we sunrise, not sunset. I understand that this loss is far more acute for women than for men. I hope that I have enough empathy and compassion to offer hugs and kind words waiting for the healing to begin.
More than any of those understandings, I see a tipping point, a fractal dimension in the making, Minerva’s owl spreading its preflight wings. Lost in headlines of the presidential election, an Islamic woman was elected to office in the US, marijuana is now legal in more states than not, California is only represented by women in the U.S. Senate, Nevada’s Senator is a Latina and voters removed a Sheriff in Arizona. Gay and lesbian couples sit down to dinner “married with children”. Pandora’s box cannot be resealed once the spirits soar at large. I am certain that all that legal weed infiltrated the fat lady’s lungs overwhelming her with both the purity and legality of the experience. She got high. The 60’s in a moment of self-inflicted protest. If there is another election as personal and vulgar as this one, it will come from our children who failed to learn from our egregious errors. Now would be a good time to dedicate ourselves to moving the entire boomer generation (yes, including me) aside. We need to trust our children to benefit from our mistakes and take care of the planet until the millennials move them politely out of the way with just a few text messages. Hope that we taught them enough to do as we say, not as we did. Hope that they have wisdom to listen to each others’ differences and learn from them.
Last year, in a letter to my sister, I summarized my departure from my generation:
“It is very difficult for me to discuss things with people who believe in fighting for the principle, the right and wrong of it. I usually walk away from those discussions because there is not a benefit to either person. I know that even the people I am closest to have areas that need to be dismissed with a joke or misdirection to avoid confronting the hard dichotomy of belief systems. I do not gain or lose stature from the "rightness" of my position. It is enough for me to see a glimmer of common knowledge.”
I still have my old hippie badge, my flowing gray pony tail. Some would say that I have kept that hairstyle waiting for the fat lady to toke up or that it is still an act of childish rebellion. I believe that I have kept some part of the 60’s alive because many of the ideas were worth saving and I wanted to keep some of the spirit alive. Synergy, chaos theory and dynamic systems remain the true heart of the 60’s. I have kept my hair long to remind myself that what is true today will be tomorrow's flat earth. The effort received consistent support from one other voice from the 60’s that embraced the spirit of the counter culture heavily influenced by his own spirituality. Leonard Cohen died at the age of 82 two days after our election. Weeks before, he released a new collection of songs that included this chorus from his song “Treaty”:
And I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill
I'm angry and I'm tired all the time
I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine.
Irony does not express the events of this fall. Bob Dylan has been blessed into the establishment with a Nobel Prize. Donald Trump has been elected President as the counter culture candidate. Leonard Cohen has found the ultimate "closing time". The fat lady is on life support. I remain, even after all these years, determined to quietly argue for empathy, for peace, love and understanding, as the antidote to fear of those who do not look or think the way I do. I hope that when our mourning is over, we can fold up our black out fits in favor of bright and gaudy tie-dyed colors. I hope that this election will be the catalyst for reflexive growth in our ability to join hands in the search understanding and solutions, instead of another generation of making demands. I hope that we can unite to create a better world, that we can turn this moment into an energetic surge of celebrating the successes of the boomers, while we reject the divisive methods of our many “isms”. The queen got high. Long live the queen. Maybe I will cut my hair.
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