My very favorite move of all time is the 1983 smash hit “The Big Chill,” an entertaining and thought-provoking story staring an amazing ensemble of up and coming actors, many of who went on to very successful careers, names like Kevin Kline, Glen Close, Jeff Goldblum, JoBeth Williams, Tom Berenger, and others. The story line goes like this: a group of old college friends are brought together years later by the death of one of their own, a brilliant but troubled man who took his own life because he had lost the courage of his convictions. All of his hopes and dreams for changing the world for the better had simply vanished and he could not live in such a world. The group decides to spend the weekend together, not only to get caught up in each others’ lives, but to examine their own feelings about the dreams and convictions of their youth versus the reality of their lives as they played out. All but one of them put away their youthful notions about anti-war movements, saving the environment and the world, and, as one of them says, “grew up” – one a doctor, another a successful businessman, a woman who put marriage and family aside for money, power and position, an actor with his own popular TV show, another an ace newspaper reporter. Yet the death of their friend has them re-examining the substance and meaning of their own lives. As Glen Close’s character, Sarah, puts it: “I’d hate to think it was all just a fad.”
Idealism is born in our youth when the world is new, we are feeling our own power for the first time, and we set out to change the world for the good of all. We join protests, create groups and political action committees, march with signs, attend sit-ins, and make our voices heard. We are, after all, the next generation, the one who will be calling the shots and we see things a whole lot differently than our parents’ generation. Then, eventually, for most of us, something happens. We graduate from school and are expected to “grow up and become responsible.” Sadly, most of us do. We come to a point where we do not see the changes happening the way we were sure they would, and we lose hope. Sure, it would be wonderful to go to another rally, or canvas a neighborhood for signatures on our petitions, but we’ve got to get a job, pay the rent, get medical insurance … and what about relationships? Marriage? Kids? Before we know it, we’re talking to financial planners about our retirement!
Idealism has to be nourished and nurtured. We lose it in the hunger for approval and belonging. We lose it in our fear of the future and need for security. We lose it when we hear the older generation tell us: “Get real. It just isn’t going to happen.” We lose hope. We may try to keep our hand in every time we step into a voting both, or refuse to support a specific business or product, or answer the door to sign yet another petition (carried by a younger version of ourselves), and by writing checks. Yet the real power we can yield as we get older isn’t necessarily in our ability to chuck our jobs and responsibilities and take it to the streets (although those of us who are retired are free to pull out our old tie-dyed shirts and do so). The power to stand in the courage of our convictions comes through the written and spoken word. We hold onto our idealism every time we refuse to remain silent, when we write that letter to our congressman, or senator, or mayor, or when we create a blog to express our views and hopes. We refuse to remain silent to the cries of the people and the needs of the world. We speak for those who can’t. There is no age limit on idealism, only a sad disbelief that the real world is the one where we give up, grow up, and shut up. But silence is not something our generation was good at 50 years ago, and that, my Third Agers, is the wisdom and the power we bring to this age. That, as we have come to learn over the years, is how to be the change we want to see in the world.
Our writing assignment on the Home Page for this week is going to ask you to put your idealism down on paper, to see what you think is worth fighting for, and how you can balance your life in such a way that you can live and still fight the good fight. I don’t know if asking you to have fun with this one is appropriate, but I will tell you that you will feel like a million bucks when you get done. Just remember, especially today, to always keep writing.
Peace and blessings.