I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Generation X is facing off against Death. We’re all over 40 now, so it’s a rite of passage at this stage of life. Our parents, the Baby Boomers, had to endure the same thing. But here’s my challenge to all my contemporaries: let’s do better than our parents.
Let’s be the adults we know we are, and rise to the challenge. Let Death motivate us to move forward with bold purpose, not retreat into an imaginary past for the fake solace of the “good old days” that never existed.
Fellow Gen Xers, I’m here to give you a pep talk. So many people are looking to us for help right now. Governments, parents, offspring, bosses, contractors, bill collectors, the whole damned world. Just as we’ve reached the time of life where responsibility kicks into high gear, the planet goes extra nuts on us. We’ve suffered through a dystopian nightmare that included especially shitty political leaders, digital wars waged by hackers, and social unrest. Then we were unceremoniously dumped into a bad pandemic movie script.
We’re old enough to truly contemplate our own mortality. We’ve been watching our parents die. We’ve watched the musicians, actors, and other cultural icons we idolized as kids die. We’re even watching our own children die, from mass shootings and—most gut-wrenching of all—increasingly by their own hands.
To paraphrase from Stephen King’s novel The Talisman, “there is too much death. The world seems half-made of death.”
Underestimate Us at Your Peril
I swear, this really is a pep talk.
Gen X, I know you’re sick and tired. That statement is more literal than it’s ever been. Like civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. I get it. I really do. I’m living it, Just like you.
So, despite the pearl-clutching of some disappointing members of our generation, we don’t have time to worry about the gender of a toy potato. We’ve got real work to do. While the older and younger generations wring their hands over cultural minutia, we’re doing the heavy lifting no one seems to want to do.
So, Baby Boomers, if you need us, we’ll be helping the Millennials deal with crushing debt and job insecurity. We’ll be helping Generation Z into adulthood by challenging and guiding them in constructive ways, rather than the shitty laissez-faire parenting you provided. And no, I’m not talking about helicopter parenting and trophies for everybody, so you can drop that lame-ass soundbite before you even utter it.
For everyone outside our small-but-mighty cohort, let me clarify something for you once and for all: Gen X is compact and complex. We’re coiled and ready. The aloofness you take for apathy? You got it all wrong. We care. We care a lot. Probably more than any generation before or since. We care so much it hurts. So, if we’ve had to resort to retreating now and then, it was to preserve our empathy and our sanity. We’ve long used cynicism as armor. But we also know how to shed that armor and expose our nerve endings when circumstances call for it.
Let’s Kick Some Ass
Gen X, there’s no reinforcement coming. All we got is each other. It’s time for us to come together as a generation and kick the world’s ass.
The depredations of our childhood and the hard knocks of our young adulthood made us more capable than we think. The older generations wanted to make us “strong” with their tough “love.” Guess what, Mom and Dad? You did your job too well. We’re so strong we don’t need anyone, especially you. We have the understanding and support of other Gen Xers. That’s good enough for us.
If any generation was capable of the “mindset moonshot” this world needs, it’s us. We know how to balance dreams with rolling up our sleeves. If we want to combat catastrophic climate change, confront social injustice, destigmatize mental illness, and face the other pressing issues of our time, we can’t wait for someone else to step up.
Gen X, we have the big ideas and the big hearts to make real change. We grew up with the heroic inspiration of Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, and Rocky Balboa. It’s time we take their examples to heart and take action.
Heroic mythology is filled with examples of those who rose up to challenge Death. Orpheus braved the Underworld to bring his love Eurydice back from the dead. Gandalf the Grey died fighting the Balrog, only to return with more power as Gandalf the White. Death presents an opportunity to face the ultimate fear and overcome it.
It’s now or never, Gen X. What will be our legacy? Will we let Death get the better of us? The choice is ours.
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