One thing about getting older is, if you’re being completely honest with yourself, you have to admit you no longer have the desire to be young again. This is not to say you wouldn’t mind the energy, sex drive and indestructibility of youth, it’s just to say there’s a growing feeling of “thank god, I don’t have to go through that again”. You’ve lost some of the idealism and optimism of youth, lost the feeling of “it’s all going to work just fine in the end”. You know now, from painful experience and lessons hard learned, that a lot of the time, it won’t. Actually I now wonder if I ever had any youthful idealism to begin with. What I really had was youthful obliviousness. A middle class white kid, I grew up in the shadow of Viet Nam and Watergate. People marched in the streets. They protested at Kent State. Leonard Bernstein had the Black Panthers to lunch. What I remember is great rock music and youthful partying.
I was oblivious.
In 1973, there was a gas embargo. Lines at filling stations went around the block. Drivers of vehicles with license plates having an odd number as the last digit were allowed to purchase gasoline for their cars only on odd-numbered days of the month, while drivers of vehicles with even-numbered license plates were allowed to purchase fuel only on even-numbered days. Unlike the older generation who felt aghast and betrayed, I remember feeling slightly inconvenienced. Yes, there was no car available for date nights but I had no dates so it hardly mattered.
Yes, I was oblivious.
In the 1980’s, developing countries across the world faced economic and social difficulties as they suffered from multiple debt crises. Ethiopia and other African countries witnessed widespread famine. There was major civil discontent everywhere. Violence occurred in the Middle East, including the Iran-Iraq War, the Soviet-Afghan War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the Bombing of Libya in 1986, and the First Intifada in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Guess what? I was in my twenties through all of it, beginning the most unlikely of careers, having a good old time and none of it seemed like that big a deal.
I was totally and completely oblivious.
In the nineties there was the first Gulf War, the first and second Chechen War, the Congo War, the Kargil War, the Kosovo War, the Ten Day War, the Croatian War of Independence and the Bosnian War. Among others. There was also the Ethiopian Civil War, the Somali Civil War and The Tajikstan Civil War. Among others. And the Rwandan Genocide. And the Srebrenica Massacre. And the Los Angeles Race Riots. And the Oklahoma City bombing. And the World Trade Center bombing (not to be confused with 911). I was in my forties now and guess what? I suddenly started paying attention. Maybe because I now had a wife and a house and children, I wasn’t quite so oblivious anymore Still, I thought, the world would go on. Wouldn’t it?
But then there was 911. And then, based on lies and misinformation, we invaded Iraq and threw the midle east into a state of chaos. We went to Aphganistand to defeat the Taliban, oh, and guess what? We’re still there.
I’m at a point in my life where I now lose what little sleep I do get over news I might have shrugged off in my youth. Why? Regardless of whether or not the world is going to go on, pretty soon it’s going to be going on without me. Why sweat this stuff now? But I do. I worry about the environment. About the questionable values of capitalism. About the smug intellectualism of the modern theatre. About vapid movies and insane video games. Uninspiring, dogmatic politicians and the crazy interest groups that finance them. I get apoplectic over Donald (The Anti-Christ) Dump-Gump-Chump. I despair about refugees stuck on small boats in the Mediterranean, the Russian influence in the Ukraine, chemical warfare in Syria, discfimation in Inda and the air quality in Asia. I worry about on going gun violence, famlies at the southern borders and right wing nationalism. I worry about the future of my children. The future of all our children. About the world we are leaving them.
At times, I miss my obliviousness.
What to do? I vote in every election. I send in my donations to causes I believe in. I pay my taxes. (To quote Justice oliver Wendall Holmes – Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.) Even though I believe in no specific god, I pray. I try as hard I can to live one day at a time. To be mindful. And thankful.
The truth is, I want to be aware of every moment, oblivious no longer.