I remember walking pilgrimages for peace, protesting nuclear weapons and washing feet in the shadow of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill. As a young Christian, I was a follower of rebel priests and radical thinkers. I wondered whether a night spent in jail for your faith should be a prerequisite for ordination in ministry.
For Christian and non-Christian baby boomers alike, ours was to be the generation to eliminate racism, end the arms race and save the planet. We organized sit-ins on college campuses, fought poverty, volunteered abroad, declared peace on war. We raged against the military industrial complex, mocked capitalism and extolled communitarianism.
But what a difference a few decades can make. During the 1980s, kids, single-family homes and the demands of earning an income led many of us to sign on to individualism as the highway to happiness. Now, the sun has set on the “dawning of the age of Aquarius,” and the hopeful optimism of young boomers has succumbed to cynicism and downsized aspirations.
Some of us continue to blow a little air on the dying embers of our countercultural dream. We may make donations to Greenpeace or Doctors Without Borders, or take the occasional shift at the food bank and drop our clothes off at the thrift store. But it’s not enough to change the world.
I once asked Matthew Fox, a former Dominican priest and founder of the Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality, if he would ever retire. “I prefer the term ‘re-firement,’” he said. “While we’re raising families, earning a living and becoming more balanced human beings, our deepest creativity and passions get sidelined.” As middle-aged adults, we sacrifice some of our so-called “impractical” ideals. Our deepest sense of purpose gets set aside, but it is not lost.
“Re-firement,” Fox told me, “is a chance to return to our early passions about the meaning of our lives.”
When the boomers were young, we had high ideals and a seemingly limitless passion to pursue them. Now, we have more wealth, free time, education and political influence than any other generation ever. To be clear, those privileges are not spread equally across racial divides, or around the world. However, too many boomers are wasting their final years ticking items off self-absorbed bucket lists, worrying about stock portfolios, redeeming seniors’ discounts, golfing and irritating our friends with pictures of our grandkids.
According to some economists, Canadian boomers are in line to inherit an estimated $750 billion over the next decade. That kind of money could kick-start a green energy revolution or help to equalize the distribution of wealth in this country. Instead, we’re spending our children’s inheritance in planetary proportions as we dither on climate change.
We also have power. Politicians pander to us because we vote, so let’s elect representatives who really put the planet first, and who treat global political tensions as a grave responsibility, not a market for arms sales.
And we have time. We are mostly healthy and living longer. If envelopes need stuffing or someone needs to get arrested at a pipeline protest, why not us? Are our plans for the next few days as important as curbing climate change?
It’s time for the boomers to boomerang, and return to the hopeful, justice-based love that hairy hippies and clean-cut activists alike used to espouse. Imagine — as I have been doing lately — the legacy we could leave by returning to our roots. “You may say that I’m a dreamer,” as we sang with John Lennon in 1971, “but [maybe] I’m not the only one.”
This column first appeared in the May 2019 issue of Broadview with the title “Talkin ‘Bout My Generation.”
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