Teach Your Parents Well
This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.
- Robert Kennedy, speaking to anti-apartheid students and faculty in South Africa, 1966
We are speaking up for those who don’t have anyone listening to them, for those who can’t talk about it just yet, and for those who will never speak again.
- Emma Gonzalez
We who are older have grown too comfortable.
We’ve spent our lives building careers and worrying about money, setting about to impress people who do not need impressing. We have followed trends in fashion and politics and music, striving to be on the right side of style. We’ve measured our successes by what we’ve created for ourselves – the jobs, the vacations, the size of our bank accounts, the schools we can get our children into, maybe even the corners we’ve been able to cut while no one was looking.
There is nothing unnatural in this, nor is there any reason to condemn it all. This is how we live, what a complex, rapidly changing, increasingly connected and demanding society requires of anyone who wants to forge a pathway and author a bit of peace. We’re the products of what we’ve sought to create, and what we’ve created so well.
But along the way we could use some perspective, some reminder of why we do these things, of how each of our lives, no matter how vigorously we might try to deny it or convince ourselves that this is not the case, is connected to something broader. We need to be taught once again that ideals are not inconveniences, or quaint fancies, or charming notions that have no bearing on how and why we live. They are not something like a china setting that’s been in the family for generations but upon which we will never dine.
Every great social movement in my lifetime has been stoked by the passions of young people. Young women marched for equality in the streets of New York and pounded the hallways of Washington’s legislative office buildings. They Took Back the Night in 1976 and ran for public offices they had never held before. Young black men offered their skulls to the billy clubs of policemen in the Deep South as they integrated lunch counters, a young John Lewis was battered on the Selma bridge, and men and women of all races risked their lives as Freedom Riders. It was the young that led the Stonewall Riots, who elected Harvey Milk and would not back down from the ill-conceived demonization of their sexuality. Students erupted against the Vietnam War and helped take down our last corrupt president before this one.
We see now another vestige of this youthful courage, this refusal to accept things as they are because that’s the way they’ve always been, this quaint and charming notion that idealism can fire the soul into bold action, not for oneself but for the greater good. Perhaps, having seen their friends and classmates gunned down by a military weapon, they feel as if they have nothing more to lose. Perhaps the flood of mindless and barbaric brutality that has permeated their young years – Parkland and Orlando and Charleston and San Bernardino and the staggering slaughter at Sandy Hook and hundreds of other instances of carnage that were not spectacular enough to warrant much notice or have fallen out of memory – perhaps all this told them that lives lived in fear are half-lives, and that those who would protect commercial interests or personal self-indulgence over the safety of children need to be confronted forcefully at last.
We cannot ignore their voices. We cannot ignore their courage in sacrificing their anonymity and enduring scorn and threats that would exile most of us to the far corners of our little worlds. Instead they stand fiercely, and will not back down, freshets of streaming water wearing down hard rock that has stood without threat for years. They will not go away. They wear passion and commitment like the latest fashions, and, in the wearing of it, teach those of us who are older and have allowed the business of living to obscure the fires of social change. They teach us that to care for something beyond ourselves is the only way that we are truly, and completely, alive.
May we all be forever young.