Jerome Christenson: Another greatest generation?

Jerome Christenson: Another greatest generation?

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Jerome Christenson

Are we in the midst of a modern heyday for hermits or what? Not since the 5th century when the desert fathers made saints of themselves by living atop pillars out in the wilderness, all the better to preach the gospel to sinners coming to gawk, has social distancing carried such a cultural panache.

For all of us, the word on the (deserted) street is “stay home,” and if you’re not home, go there.

The idea is simple and straightforward. If we stay far enough apart that we don’t breathe on one another it will keep the corona bug from spreading faster than the docs can deal with it. If we manage to do that, most all of us will emerge from this mess with our lives and lungs relatively intact.

Now there’s no denying all this enforced inactivity has caused a whole bunch of problems.

With folks not going to work, not going to the mall, not hanging out at the bars or buying gas to get there, the world economy’s get up and go has pretty well gotten up and left, and about the only thing that anybody’s thought of to do about that is have the government send everybody some money and declare liquor stores an essential service so folks have someplace to spend it.

All of this idleness has had a personal downside as well.

With nothing do to all day but binge on Netflix, munch random snacks and inventory the paper towels and toilet paper, home has become a real hothouse for new bad habits.

I have to confess that I’ve used the most recent stay-at-home order as a convenient excuse to kill a couple hours cruising Facebook – using the convenient justification that I’m being socially responsible by keeping up with what people dwelling beyond my front porch are thinking, although past experience with Facebook would indicate that an awful lot of Facebooking folks think only rarely, if ever.

Still, I was struck by a post written by a fellow I’ll call Scott – ‘cuz that’s what he called himself. Now Scott, who says he is 56 years old, called into question the wisdom of public policies that threaten to “tank the entire economy to save 2.5 percent of the population.

“I don’t want to take out the old people, but I don’t want the kids coming up today to be akin to the Depression kids.”

Well, for the moment let’s not even take into account the impact 7.5 million extra corpses might have on the economy — a boon for coffin makers, undertakers, florists and formaldehyde dealers, for sure, but perhaps a bit disconcerting for the rest of us – and consider the rest of that comment. I mean, really, does Scotty own a mirror and has he ever looked into it and considered what our generation has managed to accomplish compared to those “Depression kids” – my dad’s generation?

Let’s consider those folks who grew up after the economy went into the crapper in October 1929, the kids who grew up with “Use it up, fix it up, or do without.” The original members of the Clean Plate Club. Kids who lunched on brown sugar and lard sandwiches, wore flour sack underwear, and learned habits that would have them reusing aluminum foil and hoarding empty cottage cheese containers for the rest of their lives.

Yeah, these were the kids who beat the Nazis and rolled back the Japanese empire, then turned around, rebuilt Japan and Western Europe, held the line against Stalin, and gave birth to rock and roll.

They elected Jack Kennedy, chose to go to the moon and went there. They beat polio and smallpox, fired up the first computers, resolved to clean up our air and water, and still had time and energy to build Disney World, kick off the Super Bowl and watch Ed Sullivan every Sunday night.

Y’know, if the kids coming up turn out to be the equal of all that, we’ll have done pretty well for ourselves … and for them.

And if all it takes is sitting on the couch for a couple of weeks … we can probably do that.


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