A Generation in Advent

December 15, 1991

Because I could no longer stop the shame-induced grimace from taking over my face, because the electric shriek of my ten-dollar phone brought only anger, and because I could no longer interview healthy adult males struggling to remember their addresses as part of my jailhouse employment, I have found myself in Mexico, re-creating.

It is advent in Los Cabos, and all over the world. Colored Navidad lights drape the palm trees, shrimp boats, taco stands, and surfwear shops. On the Baja Coast, the living is cheap. Waiters earning $7.50 per day serve up cheeseburgers to eager Americans, famished from the day’s activity. Cabo San Lucas, my home for the weekend, is a big draw for water sports enthusiasts from the U.S.A. The mirror-smooth and blood- warm waters of the Gulf of Baja have proven commodious to those seeking sun, jet-skiing, para-sailing, deep-sea fishing, and other hyphenated diversion. Christmas, two years ago, a tyrant was dislodged in Romania. This Christmas, Europe and Asia opt for American solutions. In the swaggering bids for regional independence among the former territories of the Soviet Union, we see our own revolutionary heroes and their desire for self-determination. In the agglomerative actions of the European Community, who want to tum the whole of Europe into an extensive free-trade zone, we see a plan that could have the freely trading fifty American states as its inspiration.

In two very different settings, American approaches to trade and government are seen as the long-awaited Santa Clauses of some oft victimized peoples. I don’t want to belittle persons who only want to heat their homes and feed their families. Methods chosen of late may well provide long sought solutions. It is my prayer this Christmas that, after the sacrifices of transition, all of the goals of Europe’s well-meaning politicos will be met. However, with America an undisputed world leader, some talk should be made of stagnation in paradise. Life on the receiving end of the great consumerist Santa Claus has engendered heartache of its own.

There is a malady peculiar to persons of my generation. We can’t figure out when life begins in earnest. We wonder when to add our talents to the grand sum of talented offerings that have gone before to make up the traditions nurturing us.

Those who remember the 1960s have probably long since tired of talk of generation gaps and the desire of certain age groups to be understood apart from those preceding and following them. Nonetheless, I find myself part of a generation in the shadows. In our late twenties and early thirties, we never lacked television as a companion. Unlike the youth of the sixties, we are known for our reticence rather than our activism, our confusion rather than our self-righteous clarity.

This is the generation to which everything was reported extensively, butt? which nothing directly happened. We may have seen the Vietnam War, but only on TV. We are the generation who never had to fight, never lived through economic depression, and has no recollection of the sacrifices of immigration.

Persons who endured the sufferings of the calamities involved would surely never wish them on anyone. I am not here to wish them on myself. However, a malaise has settled on those who never had to suffer. Raised on television, we are comfortable spectators. We yearn to commit and cannot. In a specialized economy, we fail to find a niche, dabbling serially in unrelated jobs. In a world where travel is easier than ever before we move frequently, foreclosing for ourselves the true community we seek. In a varied religious marketplace where creativity is tolerated more than ever before, we are mute.

Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, a novel addressing the difficulties of my generation describes the inability to commit as “now denial.” He defines this as the tendency, “to tell oneself that the only time worth living in is the past and that the only time that may ever be interesting again is the future.”

For my generation, meaning is reserved for those who grappled with the challenges of the past. Commitment is to be avoided because by committing we may be limiting our possibilities in the hoped-for future. We grieve for a past we’ve never known and long for a future we refuse to try to shape. The struggles of the twentieth century may have been fraught with pain, but such pains gave definition and meaning to those who sought to overcome them. Rich meaning is absent for those who have mastered only entertaining themselves.

We plod on, waiting for the now to become the future. Like the Christmas lights this nervous night in Baja, we burn in anticipation of the coming of the mysterious agent which will start life in full and end the habit of commitmentless wandering.

So come quickly, Emmanuel. Send your light into the shadows where the X generation waits. Give us the vision and the agenda to create a flesh and blood future born of our unique experience. As you build your church, add our talents to those before, such that we may go forward, celebrate your tradition, and one day pass it on, knowing that for a time it was our attempt to be a part of your work. Amen.