3.2
May 11, 2014

Our Beautiful Youth & the American Dream. ~ Jeff Finlin

Frontierofficial, Flickr cc

With 10 bologna sandwiches, a 12-pack of Gatorade, two guitars and a penchant for something better, my 19-year-old and his buddy headed out today for the west.

It was amazing to see them pull away.

1200 miles to the west is a place they love. It’s a place where my son was fortunate enough to be able to grow up, kiss the sky of eternity and ponder it at a tender, impressionable age. He knows what he loves and a big part of him doesn’t seem to be looking for it anywhere else but inside. This is amazing to me because it wasn’t my experience.

I can only imagine the feeling he will get as he crosses great rivers and the dry line.

I can almost feel his exuberance as he comes barreling over that big hill at the end of an exhausting Kansas. I can feel him see the snow caps of the Rockies for the first time, music blaring, blood pumping, as the thought of Colorado summer nights and girls by the river waft through his mind. I can see the moon in his eyes, hanging there aloft in the daylight, swimming like some ghostly jellyfish in an ocean of blue sky. I can see the sea of grasses laid before him infused with the sound of the spring meadowlarks.

I can feel his dreams. And they are strikingly different from what mine were at his age.

At least he is traveling by car. For me, it was the same 10 sandwiches, a backpack, hitchhiking thumb, two tabs of acid, a flask, bag of weed and a hole in my heart. He doesn’t seem to need that stuff.

The only difference between him and me in that regard is that his upbringing was grounded in humility, endless space and a sense of powerlessness that I never had.

The youth of today (and I know I’m generalizing), are different than my youth. They seem to love their families and themselves. Their dreams seem small and grounded. They have seen the limitations of dreams in the world around them and have had to step back into themselves a bit more, I feel.

They know the dice are loaded.

They know the fight is fixed. Higher education is a scam. There is not much possibility in being a “have” unless that’s already who you are, so they seem to have settled on being “have nots” in some ways. They seem to be working with that. They seemed to have settled back into the only thing they have control over—which is being something they love or naturally aspire to.

The “Big American Dream” is dead. It’s hanging over them like a corpse swinging in the poplar tree out back.

They see their quandary and they stand there in that awareness. They have fallen back on banjos, yoga, sustainable food, craft beer and a hipster ideal. On some level, behind the handlebar mustaches, tattoos, gauges and ego identification is a sensibility grounded in something more important than money and success.

Can it be obnoxious sometime—yes. But I feel in some ways it’s a hope for the future that might have the potential to make America somewhat great again. The whole thing seems to be grounded in an ideal that there is something more important than money. That money will be the result of “it”—naturally—not the other way around. And if it’s not, well then that’s okay too.

A lot of people bitch about the hipsters.

What the hell. The hipsters are a result of the great swindle—a backlash of the fleecing of America—the dream gone dead and a great greed that sold everything down the river for a dollar and a back alley blow job.

I get the feeling with them that there is a feeling of no escape and that we have to start building this thing from the ground up, right here again. They have the wherewithal to tell us about it calmly and collectively. There is a wisdom there that I never had. It’s a dream still the same, but minus the desperation to fill a God-sized hole in our gut.

The dream for me was in the end about escape.

Whether I knew it or not, subconsciously, I bought into it hook, line and sinker. Maybe it was the 70s, 80s, or 90s (we are all victims of our times, no doubt) or maybe it was just me, but even in my counterculture musings and motivations of art and music, books or freedom—the big dream was always there, lurking, to poison the promise of the moment laid bare.

I never got caught up enough in my idealism to miss the smell of the ever-looming pot of gold hanging out at the end of the subliminal, shit-starved rainbow. My son doesn’t have that. His friends don’t have that. They seem to be hunkered down in a reality of the world and themselves that I never had.

I think that is a good thing. It is a real gift. There was a kind of sick ambition and hunger to fill myself up from the outside that the culture of my upbringing seemed to instill in me. No one seemed to be able to escape it.

Does this generation know they are lucky to be Americans? You bet. There is a part of them that knows that for sure. Technology has laid the world at their doorstep to reveal their good fortune. There is a subliminal gratitude that seems to come off them as well. But they also know that technology has robbed us all blind.

I don’t know: this is all just an observation, but I have been trying to figure them out. When I talk to other parents of young men and women I get the same kind of uncanny “I can’t believe they are real” response.

These kids give me something to look up to—which is something I never had.

I never thought I would be saying that. The whole “honor thy father and mother” thing doesn’t apply. They seem to know the only way to honor someone else is to honor themselves first. That’s something I never had.

Honoring myself was about honoring my dreams and the result of my dreams first and foremost. I was told that I had to make something out of myself, which implied some kind of deficiency on my part. I get the feeling that these kids know that they have everything they need right inside themselves. No one I knew had that when I was that age.

So today, as I resign myself to the tasks at hand, I’ll be thinking of them speeding across the great land.

will smell the diesel and the blacktop and I will be grateful that they have been able to show me the soundness and openness of their own hearts. I will be grateful for the example that they have given me and I will know what pride is in an extremely pure sense.

I am proud of them because they have the strength and courage to be and love themselves.

I’m proud and grateful that I was given the gift to let my son know that he was enough where he stands—without the dream—all along.

If that isn’t grace working in my life then I don’t know what is.

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Apprentice Editor: Bronwyn Petry / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Frontierofficial, Flickr Creative Commons

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Jeff Finlin