Not that I’m in one. Although this is not where I was supposed to be according to the life map I had when I was 20—O BMW, where art thou?—it’s not a terrible place to be. I could be worse off than having younger people challengingly ask me what I’ve written. At least I can answer them. It’s funny, this business of getting old. Things start to creak that used to flow smoothly—now that you’re middle-aged, do not fall asleep on the couch or you will spend the rest of the week paying for it with stiff neck, stiff knee, stiff back. You get grey hair everywhere. (Yes, even there, sadly.) You get wrinkles. (Also everywhere. Again: yes, even there.) The cute young things that used to chat you up at the mall now call you “Aunty” or “Uncle,” or at worst, “Moms” and “Pops,” as they explain the newest phone to you. It’s not something I’ve looked forward to, all in all. In my heart I’m still 26.
I guess we all have an ideal age at which we felt we were our best, our fittest, our finest. I don’t know that I was any of those things at 26, but somehow when I imagine Lisa Allen-Agostini she’s surrounded by friends in the Savannah, being serenaded with the birthday song as she turned 26. It was a good night. And it was 12 years ago. It’s shocking in a way to realise that the shoe is now on the other foot: I’m an elder. I’m no longer the young cub reporter, the wunderkind writer; I’m an elder statesman. Maybe “elder statesman” implies a kind of gravitas that I don’t and probably will never have; maybe I’m just elder, without statesmanship, but either way I’m now in a position to influence younger journalists and I pray I do a good job of it. My peers and folks just a few years above my age group are the next ones who’ll be in charge of things, a friend of mine observed last week. We’ll be running the media, running the schools, running the business, running the banks, running the country. We, the generation that sang along to the Fugees, the Foo Fighters and WuTang Clan? Can we handle it?
We’re smart. The Google generation, we are the first generation to really, deeply understand what global impact means; the Wikipedia generation, we are in command of so much knowledge that any question you have, we can answer in less than a second. We have the spirit of aggression of the 80s, the passion of the 70s, the creativity of the 60s; and we lived through the Millennium Bug so we’re not easy to fool anymore. The question is not whether we can lead, but whether we will lead well. In politics, what’s going to become of the old standard of cronyism and corruption? Are those of my generation going to accept the same old same old, because that’s just how things are? In education, will they kowtow to the status quo of getting high marks rather than building men and women of integrity and wisdom? I would love to say we are different, that we would never follow in those muddied footsteps. But there are people my age and a little bit older already toeing the line as though they didn’t watch Sesame Street just as I did, and don’t remember the Geefle and the Gonk working together to grab that nectarine from the nectarine tree.
They say nowadays 30 is the new 20 and 40 is the new 30. Perhaps that’s true, and we the next elders will have another ten-year reprieve from assuming leadership. Our parents are working longer than their parents did, so perhaps we won’t have to take over for a while yet. But while we wait, we should certainly think about what kind of leaders we want to be, and what we will take from our parents’ example. Can this country withstand another Johnny O? We’ve had too many in the generation since that name became a synonym for corruption. Will my generation change that? It is human nature to want to fix up our friends, to belong to a group and to protect that group.
We’re not the first generation that swears it will do things differently when it grows into its powers. Will the Google generation succeed where others have failed?