I believe in the gifted-ness of life. We owe our lives to something greater than ourselves. This is the seminal message at the core of our oft-maligned religious instinct. For every conscious beneficiary of the awesome gift of life, humble thanksgiving ought to be the primary ethical response to the blessing of our vitality. In the midst of a vast and inhospitable universe, the beauty of human life has bloomed. A primal act that belies the sovereignty of Good! How shall we honor the holiness of life and do justice to our precious existential potential? Surely not within the hubris of isolated, insulated, self indulgence! Have we not been seduced by the tentacles of our hedonistic popular culture? We certainly will miss the mark of our promise as the crown of creation if we make our ultimate concern the accumulation of pleasurable experience.
I feel called to the prophet’s role for my disappointing generation. When our segment of the baby boom came of age in heady, turbulent times, we set ourselves above the mercenary “establishment”. We were determined not to become our programmed mothers and shallow fathers. We brazenly raised the standards of the “good life”in those Aquarian dreams. We would transcend the materialism of the post war decades – we would collectively “get ourselves back to the Garden”. This most fortunate generation had vowed to change the world. But like Alvin Lee, it seems that “we didn’t know what to do”.
How far we have fallen short of the mandate to “smile on our brothers”! Harvard professor Robert Putnam has chronicled how socially disengaged our cohort has been – how we have abandoned all the traditional mechanisms of charitable civic life – mesmerized by home electronics in our consumer castles. We still run from duty. Our only obsession is wealth management – our only destination is secure retirement.
Alas, we have one last chance for atonement. As we do retire in unprecedented numbers, we can dedicate our golden years to true generativity. America’s third sector of non-profit organizations could achieve untold beneficence given the influx of legions of highly skilled and resourceful champions. Perhaps then we might be true to our youthful aspirations and finally be able to confront with confidence Thomas Merton’s dictum – “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.