On being a “has been”

There have been several items on how boomers need to get out of the way for the next generations. Here is a reflection by Chris Glaser on being a “Has Been.” Although I still like one of our essayists, Linda Ryan’s comment, “We’re dying as fast as we can!”:

What precipitated our talk was my volunteering with a task group of alumni from Yale Divinity School shaping our 35th “cluster reunion” (classes of ’76-’78) this October. I mentioned that one of the young reps from the alumni association working with us had suggested we might want to talk about how we are “winding down” our ministries and other careers. I caught a whiff of denial, perhaps, as one of my former classmates quickly countered we might not be winding down at all, but preparing for our “next big thing.” I told my brother that I kind of felt like I was winding down—working just as hard, mind you, but with no great expectations as in younger days.

Propinquity would have it—maybe even grace—that a writer detailing the LGBT movement within mainstream Protestant U.S. churches asked me at this time to be among those reviewing the manuscript for accuracy. I am grateful to be remembered for the various roles I played as an activist helping LGBT people claim our memberships, ministries, and marriages within the church and culture. And to know that we are at least on our way to complete success. Career-wise for me (he said wistfully) I just wish it had come a little sooner.

Glaser goes on to quote Victor Frankl:

Usually, to be sure, man considers only the stubble field of transitoriness and overlooks the full granaries of the past, wherein he had salvaged once and for all his deeds, his joys and also his sufferings. Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with. I should say having been is the surest kind of being.

And, instead of envying the future of the young, Frankl says the old instead may affirm:

“Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the thing of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

“Having been is the surest kind of being.” We can be proud of work done, love loved, joys welcomed, sufferings endured. Being a “has been” doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

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Category : The Lead

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  1. mumcat

    I remember being young and having all the answers. It’s really no surprise that today’s young people feel no different than we did. We, however, have gotten older and (hopefully) wiser, at least as wise as some of the advice and guidance our elders gave us in our youth hoped that we learn.

    I still stick by my statement you quoted though. When I am (or people of my generation are) are told to move out and let the younger generation run things, I still say “We’re dying as fast as we can!” Not sarcasm, just honesty. They will have their full turns just as we did. Hopefully they will learn, just as we did. Meanwhile, we will sit and wait and do the work God gives us to do. The church’s young leaders may be through with us, but I have a feeling God isn’t.

    Linda Ryan, feeling older by the minute

  2. Benedict Varnum

    I’m a young churchman, and sometime-leader, who isn’t through with you all, and you damn well better not walk away.

    The youth of several dioceses I’ve participated in like to rally around the cry “We’re not the church of tomorrow; we’re the church today!” Seems to me Boomers could stand to rally around the cry, “We’re not the church of yesterday; we’re the church today!”

    But I’m sympathetic, having been going on 80 since I was 16. I can’t wait til I can spend all day grumbling my opinions at people. Of course, by then medicine’ll have 80 lookin’ like the new 50. Honestly, you boomer kids don’t know how good you’ve got it. In MY day, we’re gonna have to be polite into what ought to be our best grumping years!

    Ben Varnum

  3. Richard E. Helmer

    I have found these threads puzzling in the extreme. While he didn’t write it verbatim, Paul might have just as easily written: “In Christ there is no longer old or young, Boomer or Gen-Xer, Builder or Millennial…”

    Any resentment I acquire of Boomers or others is not of God, nor the Gospel. And just who the hell am I to tell any brother or sister to get out of my way?

  4. Brian Davis

    I wonder what might happen if, instead of saying and thinking that the only solution for us boomers “getting out of the way” is by dying, we took to the notion that we need to start sharing more power and pulling back our involvement in increments to allow room for new thoughts and voices?

    The self-defenses are strong and poignant but keep the focus on the self and how the self is perceived to be affected. Perhaps a shift away from self and towards the corporate is difficult and scary but it seems crucial at this point.

    I don’t believe that moving “out of the way” nullifies past accomplishments or dishonors dedication and historical commitment nor does it disrespect experience and history.

    It simply means that time is passing and new life is growing and the world is constantly changing. I ask myself: Why do I want/need to hang onto control in this situation? What happens if I let go (even a little bit) and let others stretch their wings? Have I really contemplated and accepted the fact that I will one day die and the world (and church) will continue without me or my input?

    It isn’t all about me, after all (a hard lesson for me to learn), but all about us and time and the future and growth and the power of rising again after dying to the old self.

  5. I’m with Richard Helmer. The clash of generations posts seem an awful lot like navel-gazing to me. It seems that the best we can do is work with the people we have to follow the Gospel mandate to love God and love our neighbor not only in our words, but in our deeds. Our churches may grow, or they may not grow, but that’s not really the point. The point is to be disciples of Jesus.

    I’m in my late 70s, and I gave up my involvement in church ministries in which I was once active because I was tired and burnt out. A family situation arose which takes up a good deal of my time now, and my need in the church is sustenance through worship in community to do what I do outside church, which seems to me to be answering God’s call for me right here and right now to live the Gospel.

    June Butler

  6. Bill Dilworth

    I said it on another age-related thread, and I’ll say it again here: this conversation suffers from a great fuzziness of terms. Viewing Baby Boomers as necessarily anywhere near the age to start winding things down or stepping aside seems like a problem, given the fact that the last of the Baby Boomers was born in 1964, according to the Census Bureau. In what way does it make sense to look at, say, President Obama (born 1961) as someone whose age demands that he get out if the way? I’m not an Obamaniac, but seeing his age as a problem strikes me as bizarre.

  7. Ann Fontaine

    This essay is really about knowing when one needs to say “its over” — and passing the torch on — and how many feel a bit defensive when that message comes to us. And that it is okay to bask in past deeds without thought of “what next”

  8. Chris H.

    Bill, the sayings, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” and “Be true to yourself” have always been part of my view of Boomers. My parents were both born by 1950 and so were part of the “Woodstock generation”. (You’re much closer to my age than my parents’-sorry if it bothers you to be lumped in, I’ve always thought 25 years too long for a “labeled generation” in our fast paced world). And they and their siblings and friends really did believe/act that way toward the older generations. We watched or they told stories of how they taught their racist, bigot parents a lesson, and the kids took them at their word-older generations are backward and bad. Newer is always better and compromise is betraying your beliefs. The cliche, “You’ve made your bed and now….” has always popped into my head during discussions like this. The question is how to make peace, when you’ve taught them not to listen.

    Chris Harwood

  9. Bill Dilworth

    Chris, I’ve shared your opinion about the length of the Boomer generation. The problem with the BB is that its defined in demographic terms – you can look at a chart of US births and see the Boom – but talked about as if it were a cultural phenomenon. But there wasn’t one generational culture shared by the whole range of Boomers. Hearing about the 60’s and how great they were while growing up in the 70’s always felt like arriving at a party late to find everyone had drunk all the beer, eaten all the queso, trashed the place and moved on to the next big thing.

    I just found out that there’s a separate label for my age cohort, the second wave of the Baby Boom: Generation Jones. It’s supposedly marked by less optimism, more cynicism, and more mistrust of government than that of our older Boomer sibs; sounds about right.

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