“Only a generation as self absorbed as the boomers could manage to name themselves “next” as they get ready to die.”
This comment came in the form of a surly tweet recently in response the announcement of a new section in the Bangor Daily News. The section is called “Next” and it focuses on issues of interest to Mainers in late mid-life — roughly mid-50s to mid-70s. At 61, I’m a proud member of this group.
The Baby Boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, is often accused of being self-centered and feeling “entitled.” Born into the affluent era that followed the second world war, the reasoning goes, many members of my generation grew up in solid middle-class homes with few economic hardships. Necessities such as food, shelter and clothing were plentiful. All the dads had jobs. Mothers stayed home with the kids. Everyone had a car — sometimes two. Families took vacations together. Children grew up and went off to college.
Compared with their parents — members of the so-called “Greatest Generation,” who grew up during the Great Depression and came of age during WW2 — the Boomers had it good. No wonder we’re spoiled ingrates.
These are sweeping generalizations, of course. There was plenty of privation in this country after the war. Many families struggled, not only economically but also against alcoholism, mental illness, domestic violence and religious zealotry.
But Boomers also came of age in wartime — the deeply contested Vietnam War. Instead of supporting the war with unquestioning patriotism, they studied it. They questioned its morality, its tactics, its justification.
Boomers also grappled on the front lines of civil rights issues, supporting blacks and women as they strove to overturn longstanding prejudice and achieve social and legal parity. Boomers demonstrated in support of the causes they believed in. They filled the ranks of the Peace Corps.They embraced environmental causes and launched the “back to the land” movement that eschewed middle-class materialism and breathed new life into America’s rural communities.
Boomers, I would argue, showed us what it meant to be concerned citizens, critical thinkers and persistent activists on behalf of the causes they supported.
I’ve been working recently on a story about volunteerism in Maine, with a focus on the baby boom generation. I’ve talked with some remarkable people: a 67-year-old woman in Troy who is leading the complicated restoration of an historic church; a 70-year-old man in Belfast who serves both as an animated ambassador at the city’s visitor center and as a mentor to young men re-entering society after incarceration; and a 50-year-old employee at L.L. Bean who is a leader in that organization’s maintenance of more than 18 rugged miles of the Appalachian Trail near Millinocket.
Mainers of all ages step forward to give of their time, energy and expertise to make life better for others. In my experience, that impulse is directly related to a sense of gratitude, an awareness of one’s own fortunate circumstances or hard-won insights, and a desire to share the goodness of life with others. In Maine, the state with the oldest population in the nation, Baby Boomers are valuable members and leaders of the volunteer workforce. That’s something to be proud of, and grateful for. I am both.