Eternal Youth

You should never stay in the same town where you went to college. While you get older, the university population stays the same age. A new generation supplants the older one, but the university students remain young.

I was on campus recently to see a play and took the time to walk around the place where, some 50 years ago, I was a student, where I studied English literature and learned how to think critically, protested the Vietnam War and demonstrated for women’s and civil rights, and started my journalism career working for the campus newspaper.

While most of the campus hasn’t changed physically, it felt different; for one, students young enough to be my grandchildren went by on skateboards. But it wasn’t the campus—with its stately stone buildings and ancient trees—that had changed but me. In the last part of my life, I am a different person and view the world through different lenses than when I was in my 20s. Was I feeling sad because of my lost youth? Would I like to go back to those years where life was charged with youthful energy and promise, and I had my whole life in front of me?

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Who Hurts the Most?

I recently eavesdropped on an Internet conversation about “trigger alerts,” which took a side turn into whether baby boomers or younger generations had a harder time when growing up. In this discussion, baby boomers maintained that, as youth, we didn’t need to be alerted when something painful was about to be discussed in a classroom or on a TV show, and that the new generation was being coddled by being warned ahead of time that the lecturer or movie had material—about rape or violence, for example—that might hurt or offend. Instead of turning away from offensive or scary material, the baby boomers argued, we need to confront our fears, not avoid them.

As an older baby boomer, this rang true, until I started reading comments from younger women. They talked about being raped—a word I hardly knew when I was in high school—and pointed out that they had grown up with the threat of school shootings, and the subsequent preventive measures, like lock-down drills, that promoted constant fear and anxiety.

We baby boomers had our own school drills, like crawling under the desks to practice what we would do if the Soviet Union launched nuclear warheads at the U.S., something that seemed very possible during the Cold War when both countries were building nuclear arsenals that threatened the destruction of the whole planet, otherwise known as MAD—mutually assured destruction.

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