Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if I was intended to be born in a different era, a different century, or even a half century earlier. The values and lifestyle I strive for often separate me from my peers, and from mainstream society in general. I wouldn’t call them conservative, but rather traditional.
My suspicion was only confirmed when last week, in church, a gentleman told me he felt I belonged to his generation, which would roughly equate my parents’ generation. Some people might take offense at being told they belong to their parents’ time, but I didn’t, especially as this is a recurring thought of my own. Is my life an anachronism?
Everything I try for, believe in, and hope for seems faded away and irrelevant to most of today’s society. I admit, I am a romantic and an idealist, but still, I’m realistic, or at least try to be, in my expectations. The fact that society has seemingly crossed off simple decency from its list of rightful expectations is what frustrates and perplexes me the most.
I believe what led the gentleman at church to make this statement was my show of decency, of respect. I had gone to church because it was the fortieth day, the Karasoonk, as we say in Armenian, of a friend who had died over the summer. In the Armenian Church, the families and friends of the deceased will gather for a service called Hokeehankisd, literally meaning Rest of the Soul, to remember the newly departed on the fortieth day after their death. It’s a way of re-affirming the mourning of the family and friends and offering them consolation. It offers a series of additional prayers for the departed, recognizing their earthly absence and praying for their heavenly entrance. As I was affected by the death of this truly kind and gracious individual, I up and went to church, leaving campus life behind for a couple of hours.
Among those gathered, excluding the blood relatives of the departed, I was the only “young” person there. And so, it was on this premise that I was pulled aside and told my actions, my behavior, my character did not agree with that of young adults today. I recognize that there are several personal traits I have that are not reflected in my peers, and I often pride myself because I feel they define my individuality. But, there are certain times that I wish this were not true — that, instead, who I am and how I act be stereotypical of young people today, and this was one of them.
I was compelled to go to church for this person’s Hokeehankisd not because it was customary, but because it was simply the decent thing to do. If you don’t show respect at such times, then when? I’ve discovered in the busy world of academia and professional life, there is no later because later often lapses into never.
This same gentleman who pulled me aside last week made one other comment that struck me. He said people in his generation would do what I had done that day in going to church. But of people my age today he said, “They’re not focused,” his tone simultaneously exhibiting a sense of urgency and resigned disappointment. I realized, as I was standing in a corner listening to him, that it’s true. It’s not just a matter of us being distracted by TV or the internet or greater opportunities to travel. I would attribute our lack of focus to the pressure we feel to excel, to get somewhere. It’s that we’re too focused on a single goal, a goal which too often is externally constructed, rather than internally. To be competitive in any academic or job setting, we have to be juggling all types of activities and responsibilities, all of which, when combined, appear to create a sturdy and polished building from the outside; but remove a single structural element, and you face the threat of collapsing. We’re rushed and compelled to have the topping off ceremony, to get that building up, but we’re prevented from enjoying the experience of laying down the bricks of that metaphorical tower. And when we rush, we fail to make connections, to strengthen, to mature. Sure, a lot of college kids move to their first job or graduate school away from home once they’ve graduated. But, are they really independent, does life really make sense to them? I don’t claim to be any better than the rest, but I also don’t pretend to be any more than I know I am.
Are you listening, people of my generation?
Life is a fleeting expanse of time; one can not excess in the frivolities at the expense of the essentials.