I speak quite often of my generation’s long journey—of their 40 years lost in the “wilderness of self” that began the 1970’s. In his seminal book, ”Bowling Alone” , Robert Putnum wondered what happened to our society–and my generational peers–that made them wander away from a commitment to a broader community and seek solace in partitioned lives, all but cut off from the joys and responsibilities that come from being part of something bigger than yourself.
I believe its roots lie in the untreated wounds of the preceding decades deaths. First came John Kennedy, then Malcolm X, Dr King and finally, in June of 1968 (just weeks before my 10th birthday) Bobby Kennedy . But for many, the most personal was when, in May of 1970, National Guard troops opened fire on students who were demonstrating against the Vietnam War. For those too young to remember or for those unaware of the impact made by “four dead in Ohio” the iconic images from that fateful day still haunt my generation—none more so that the captured wailing of the “girl with the Delacroix face” as I remember her called.
This moment, compounded by those prior murders, seemed to set my generational elders adrift. Like self medicating addicts trying to dull the throb of a festering hurt, they set off, to my eyes, in vain pursuit of spiritual anesthetic—first through sex and drugs and rock and roll, then with possessions—which, like all addictions—never quite eased the pain.
I just visited Kent State, at the invitation of students who had visited DC Central Kitchen last spring and who are now establishing a Campus Kitchen to fight hunger in Portage County.
While there, I stopped by the hillside overlooking that parking lot where the spirit of my generation seemed to bleed out, and pondered the past…and the future for the students I was about to address.