I wander the halls of the Minnesota History Center far more frequently that you’d believe, and for more hours at a time that you’d think possible. I attend historical events; book readings (Augie’s Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip!) classes (at the Turf Club! With beer!), and seasonal gatherings (Victorian Halloween ghost stories @ the Alexander Ramsey house!). Dex, because he is just the best, even humored me last fall and spent a long afternoon on a coach bus chartered around town by the St. Paul Gangster Tour. I will stop and read any historical marker within three miles of my car, am always on the look out for interesting historical non-fiction (recommendations, please), and have Netflixed pretty much every mini-series ever produced by the History Channel. I know random event dates of historical note, am memorizing the presidents in succession just to see if I can, and rattle of the most obscure of facts from time to time.
I think you get the point. I totally nerd out over this stuff. But, mostly, I’m interested in the stories; what the human experience was like for the people who lived day-to-day through these periods of what we later deemed historically significant. Like, did they know? Did they know that they were in the middle of something big? Did they know that candid newspaper photo would be in my textbooks? Did they wish that they had paid more attention? Or did they pray that one day they would be able to forget?
I wonder if and what my grandparents remember of the Depression. I regret never asking them, now that they are all gone.
I do know that they remembered WWII, but I regret never listening as closely as I should have, because I think about these stories now, and I have forever unanswered questions. I know that my dad remembers the day Kennedy was shot, and I have a few coworkers who have given me a glimmer of what Vietnam was like. I learned that it seemed each generation before me had some sort of seriously defining characteristic that played a role in shaping the society I exist in every day. Maybe I’ve always wondered what ours would be. Maybe I’ve always felt there is a little bit of “missing out,” in not understanding why my generation is seemingly fine just existing in this world as is, when we often have the ability to create a beautiful new one. Maybe it was my parents, who gracefully taught me that there is your world, and then there is the world, and you are expected to be present and a participant in both. Maybe when we are drawn to events of the past, we are just mostly internalizing what we do not want our future to be.
History has already seen so much that our ancestors were a part of; colonization, territorial conflicts, World Wars, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Roe v. Wade, the technological boom. Growing up in this generation, maybe it wasn’t that we were actively choosing to sit out, as much as it was the assumption that it seemed so much of the world was already drawn and quartered. Sure, there are constant new developments, but don’t all current events now seem more a matter of maintainance than reinventing the wheel?
I have always a bit jealous of that.
Coincidently, this was what arrived in my mailbox last week.
“Lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.” At first, it sort of stung, because I don’t know about you, and I keep it mostly behind the scenes, but I’m busting my ass over here. Is this how others see us? And are we comfortable with that? Or, is this how we picture ourselves? And, if that’s true, then as narcissists, why the hell does that hurt so much?
Now, what we know about Millennials from this article is that there are 80 million of them, which is the largest age group in American history. They are scoring 58% higher on scales of narcissism in 2009 than in 1982. 30% live with their parents. They have notorious levels of job dissatisfaction. They are more of a “think before you do” generation than a “just do it” generation. They have had their country in some state of war nearly all (or all, for most) of their entire lives. They watched 9/11 on tv and personally knew the soldiers that were sent to fight; they were their classmates and friends. Marriage ends happily less than 50% of the time. Scientific advances mean they are faced with the opportunity to have children into their 40’s-if ever at all. They believe in God, but 30% of them (the largest percentage ever) are unaffiliated with any particular religion. They are continuing to educate themselves despite the massive and ever-increasing amount of money is takes to do that, although they have less household and credit-card debt than any previous generation.
It is because of all this that they are, understandably, often reserved, cautious, even wary.
And yet, they are optimistic. AMAZINGLY optimistic. Specifically, 89% stated “I am confident that eventually, I will get what I want out of life.” They are more accepting of people than ever before, and in general, maintain a very positive outlook on life. That will be what saves us. And I saw it last week.
And by last week I am referring to when I spent the entire afternoon and evening on Tuesday in St. Paul, at the Capitol, encompassing myself in a gigantically sweaty human mass of purely happy, thankful and tearful chaos that was the bill signing that finally brought gay marriage to Minnesota. And this post isn’t about gay marriage as much as it is about watching something that had never been done before in the history of this state that I love so much. (And really, how much of ANYTHING has NEVER been done anymore?) It was about seeing history made, and being able to say, 50 years from now, “Yes. I was there. I saw the bill signed. I cheered with all my heart and breathed a sigh of relief. I danced along side the marching band parade that took over the streets and elatedly spilled into downtown. I watched people hug strangers with all their strength, and wave flags with more faith than I’ve ever seen. I saw true happiness. I cried when the Gay Men’s Chorus sang “Marry Us” at dusk because I knew at that moment, without a doubt, that it was one of the most beautiful things I would ever hear. (It’s right here if you’ve never had the pleasure). And I walked home sweaty, exhausted, and elated, feeling more on top of the world and hopeful about people than I have in months. Maybe years.”
And yet, it simultaneously felt like a blur. Is this right? Is this how it felt for everyone who celebrated achievements those generations before us? I’m guessing so, but we’ll never know. All I know for certain is that a few times that day, I found myself stopping, breathing, taking it all in and thinking: yesterday, history was what happened 50 years ago. Today, history is what is happening right now.
And so maybe this is what my generation will accomplish, changing the face of marriage across the nation. Maybe this is our civil rights story. And I am so proud of that. Because long after everything seemed settled, and everyone carried out as business as usual, we stood up and said “Hey, wait a minute. What about them?”
And maybe it’s taking us longer than previous generations to find our footing, and maybe you’ve almost given up on us too. But don’t. Please. Just because we’re doing it differently doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong. Just because it’s taking us longer doesn’t mean we don’t care. Maybe we care so deeply that we want to make sure we get it right. Maybe we are so invested that we sometimes just don’t know where to start. Maybe we see that the lives we are currently living are exacerbating the suffering of others, and undoing that is going to take even longer than it did to put this type of world in place.
But we want the challenge. We’re optimistic about it. Let us try.
And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have stories to tell after all.