Last Tuesday night, like most Tuesday nights, I was at the Naked Angels cold reading series at Theater 80 (called, appropriately enough, Tuesdays at 9). We’ve been reading a new one-act of mine, a topical piece called Gun Safe (you can guess what it’s about), and last week the final installment was presented. It went over well, and as the writer of a successful piece touching on current events, I found myself drawn into many of the post-show conversations at the adjoining bar.
One of the folks I wound up talking to was a young man, who had only been coming to the reading series since the start of the season – just a few weeks. And when I say he was young, I mean he was young. He lamented that he never knew a world in which schoolkids didn’t have smartphones glued to their hands, and were free to interact with each other as human beings. He referred to the current movie Mid90s as a nostalgia piece from his childhood. I felt every one of my gray hairs that evening, Gentle Reader, each one piercing me in the scalp and stabbing me in my venerable brain.
But I did not envy this young man in the slightest. For, as the conversation turned towards the news, he remarked that in all likelihood, he would not live to see old age.
Not because of any reckless behavior on his part. Not because of illness. But because, be it through the inevitability of war or climate catastrophe, he would be killed.
He wasn’t flippant. He wasn’t nihilistic. He wasn’t being histrionic. He was an intelligent, articulate, sensible young man who had calmly accepted the likelihood of his impending death, along with that of everything you and I hold dear.
And he wasn’t despondent. He was still pursuing his dreams, still engaged in the issues around him. He was still making plans – worthwhile, responsible, decent plans – for a future he did not believe would arrive.
We’ve all dealt with similar thoughts; I grew up in the 80s, when we were all convinced nuclear holocaust was right around the corner (and it almost was). But this was different. There was a grim finality to this, a sense that this particular battle was already lost, this cause hopeless. And when you’re a grumpy middle-aged man like me, seeing this in a young person is particularly painful.
This is not a post about mocking those crazy young people these days.
Because this is our fault.
We have failed this young man, and millions like him. Every single one of us.
I don’t care which generation you belong to, because we’re all chock full of overgrown toddlers too busy throwing tantrums to actually try and solve everything. And the world is being buried beneath the wreckage those tantrums have left in their wake.
Is there anything to be done?
Well, in terms of a single action that you, personally, can undertake to single-handedly undo the malevolent forces at work today, probably not. But can small actions accumulate and make a difference? Absolutely.
And fortunately, we all get to take one of those actions tomorrow.
Yes, this is one of those posts where I go and tell you to vote. And while the common wisdom holds that artists telling you to vote tend to be liberal, I fail to see how this isn’t fundamentally a conservative issue. Artists, after all, are desperately trying to preserve the best parts of our civilization, which we seem hell-bent on throwing away. And at this moment, we’re trying to conserve this planet’s capacity for supporting life itself.
The current regime governing this country has proven itself utterly inept at trying to conserve these things – and that’s the charitable interpretation. Whoever you are, wherever in this country you live, vote against whoever you can that supports them. Vote for whoever you can that will take action, however small, to undo their damage.
That way, when I see this young man at the next Tuesdays at Nine meeting, I can tell him, at least, that we tried.