“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us . . .”
– Charles Dickens, the opening words of A Tale of Two Cities
Yes, we had everything before us. The days of my youth, the mid-1960s, were much like the times Dickens writes of, the time of the French Revolution in the late 1700s. In a sense it was a wonderful time to be young. We were so alive. The country was fighting in Vietnam, the young men of our generation were facing the draft, forced to fight in a war they didn’t believe in. Our nation was struggling with civil rights and with equal opportunities for women. We were rebels with a cause. We thought about what was happening, we read, and we talked and talked. College campuses were embroiled in controversy. We marched, we sang, we protested, and we wore anti-establishment clothes. There was so much anger and confusion, so much uncertainty about our future, and so much injustice. Yet I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been young then, to have been part of it. We had a purpose that was bigger than us and it formed us for the rest of our lives. Many of my generation joined the Peace Corps or later became environmental activists or advocates for social justice causes. We’re more than grown up now—we’re AARP members. But we’ve got a touch of the anti-establishment, crazy hippie war protester in us still.
When I look back at those times and compare them with the generations that came after us, it seems that those who followed us had much less intensity, or perhaps a different kind of intensity. At least from my point of view, they went to college, they got jobs and maybe starting raising families, but they missed the opportunity to have a connection with something beyond themselves. Their focus seemed to be more individualistic, like graduate school, making a lot of money, having big weddings and buying a big house in the right neighborhood. Maybe it’s not possible to have the intensity we had without a war. And it’s not easy to do what we did when you’re older and you have a family to support. The 60s was the perfect time to be young, even for those of us who didn’t go to Woodstock.
But we are now in the midst of a war, and have been for years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Where are the mass protests? Why aren’t people rising up and marching in the streets? Why don’t I hear protest songs?
Just listen to Protest Radio on Pandora and tell me that our generation didn’t have the best music ever. It still gives me goosebumps and I’m still singing “four dead in Ohio” with Neil Young. The music is the soundtrack of our generation.
It was the best of times—we had a cause, we felt alive, and we had great music. It was worst of times—our friends were getting drafted and dying in Vietnam, those who came home were scorned, people were still getting lynched, our leaders were assassinated one after another. What a time to be young. Even if it means I have to be approaching old age now, I am grateful that I was once young in the best and worst of times.