One thing about getting older is, if you’re being honest with yourself, you have to admit you don’t have an overwhelming desire to be young again.  This is not to say you wouldn’t mind the energy and idealism of youth, it’s just to say there’s a growing feeling of “thank goodness I don’t have to go through that again”.   You’ve lost some of the idealism and optimism, lost the feeling of it’s all going to work just fine in the end.  You know now, from experience and lessons learned, that some of the time, it won’t.

Actually I often wonder if I ever had any youthful idealism to begin with.   What I really had was youthful obliviousness.   A middle class white kid, I grew up in the shadow of VietNam and Watergate.  People marched in the streets. They protested at Kent State.  Leonard Bernstein had the Black Panthers to lunch.  What I remember is great rock music and youthful partying.  I was oblivious.

In 1973, there was a gas embargo.  Lines at filling stations went around the block.  Drivers of vehicles with license plates having an odd number as the last digit were allowed to purchase gasoline only on odd-numbered days of the month, while drivers of vehicles with even-numbered license plates were allowed to purchase fuel on even-numbered days. Unlike the older generations who felt furious and frightened,  I remember feeling slightly inconvenienced.  Yes, there was no car available for date nights but I had no dates so it hardly mattered.  I was oblivious.

In the 1980’s, developing countries across the world faced economic and social difficulties as they suffered from multiple debt crises.  There was major civil discontent everywhere.  “Government is not the solution to our problems” said actor turned politician, Ronald Reagan, in his 1981 inaugural address. “Government is the problem.”  Problems?  What problems?  I was in my late twenties, beginning the most unlikely of careers writing make believe, and none of it seemed like that big a deal.   I was totally and completely oblivious.

In the nineties there was the first Gulf War, the first and second Chechen War, the Congo War, the Kosovo War, the Croatian War of Independence and the Bosnian War.  Among others.  There was the Los Angeles Race Riots which resulted in 60 deaths and $1 billion in damage and the Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 people and wounded 800.  There was  the World Trade Center bombing, not to be confused with 911, and the Columbine High School shooting where two teenage students murdered 12 other students and one teacher.  I was in my forties now and guess what?  I had started paying attention.  Perhaps because I had a wife and a house and two children, I wasn’t quite so oblivious anymore.

In 2000, George Bush defeated Al Gore for the US presidency.  It was the fourth election in American history when the winner of the popular vote was not the winner of the electoral votes.  “Partisan rancor must now be put aside,” said Gore. “I accept the finality of the outcome, and for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”  Looking back from present day, how could anyone have been oblivious to that?  Well, I was.  I thought it was how our leaders were supposed to be; honest, principled and committed to the common good.  Talk about oblivious.

On September 11th, 2001, terrorists hijacked four aircraft. The first two crashed into the World Trade Center in New York; the third crashed into the Pentagon, the fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.  No one was oblivious. The U.S invasion of Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001 and in 2003, the United States invaded Iraq marking the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Oh, wait, maybe I was oblivious.  Freedom?  I thought we were looking for weapons of mass destruction and terrorist groups that we never found.  In August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama coastlines killing at least 1,836 people and causing $81 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.  Was this the beginning of climate change?  Environmentally oblivious, I’m not sure I’d heard the term yet.

On May 18, 2012, something called Facebook held its initial public offering.  It raised $16 billion and gave the company a $102.4 billion market value. At that time, it was the largest technology IPO in U.S. history. As a non-user of the platform, I was only partially oblivious.  I wouldn’t be much longer.  In November 2016, Donald Trump, a corrupt businessman and lascivious TV personality, won the election to become the 45th president of the United States.  His opponent, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes.  “Every four years,” said the Donald, “we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power.”  Really?   On January 6, 2021, rioters supporting Trump’s attempts to overturn his defeat to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, stormed the United States Capitol.

Speaking of 2020, shall we talk about Covid?  Not, let’s not.  Who could be oblivious to that?  One can only wish they were.

I’m now at a time in my life where I lose what little sleep I do get over things I would have shrugged off in my youth.  I ask myself, why sweat this stuff now.  Regardless of whether or not the world is going to go on, pretty soon it’s going to be going on without me.  Be oblivious.  But I can’t.  I worry about the future of American democracy.   I worry about the environment and about the negative effects of social media.  I fret about news headlines that have come to resemble over the top movie titles and insane video games.  I worry about unprincipled, dogmatic politicians and the interest groups that finance them.  I worry about gun violence and the increase in road fatalities and the next pandemic.  I worry about the future of my children; the future of all our children.  I miss my obliviousness and often wonder what I can do to comfortably replace it.   I vote in every election.  I send in my donations to causes I believe in.  I pay my taxes.  Is it enough?  I cringe at the thought of Proud Boys and non-vaxers and climate deniers but I try to remember that they are people too, that there are things in their lives that have brought them to this point just as there are things in my life that have brought me to mine.  I tell myself this is a time for connection, not conflict. Is that enough?  I believe in recycling, electric cars and solar and wind energy.   I try to express respect and gratitude to everyone I encounter.  Even though I believe in no specific god, I pray.  I try as hard I can to live one day at a time.  I try to be mindful.  If I can no longer be oblivious, I want to be aware of every moment.  That just might be enough.

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