Our class has lost 33 members since graduation day and many others are unaccounted for, so about 131 of us have survived Viet Nam, the Hippie revolution, drugs and alcohol, cancer, heart disease, rap music, Lady Gaga and a myriad of other attacks on body and soul. We came together to celebrate 50 years of survival and to remember the simpler days of the 50s and early 60s when life was not quite so complicated and busy.
Thankfully we all wore name tags with our high school yearbook pictures so we could glance down to see the young rendition of the old, grey, wrinkled person we once knew. In almost all cases it was possible to see through the evidences of past time and identify the classmate long changed by the ravages of time. Occasionally there was that person so changed by time’s demands that it was difficult to recognize the young high school student we once knew.
Life was simple in those days at Shafter High School. I wrote about it in my book Education Revolution:
These were the days of Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, classic rock and roll, one brand of Levis jeans, a white T-shirt, and Wellington boots. With a fifty-five Chevy, a radio, a pretty lady and a dollar in our pockets, we were the kings of the world. We could drag Main Street with nobody shooting at us and the drive-in bellhops would bring us a hamburger, cherry coke, and fries right to the window of our car. The American dream was unfolding before our eyes.
I went on about the good ol’ days:
Gasoline was thirty-four cents a gallon and a pack of cigarettes was about the same. Yes, smoking was all the rage because we had not yet invented lung cancer and besides some people thought it was cool. I never smoked because I was sure I was cool already and besides I didn’t like to breathe smoke. It just didn’t seem natural.
And the days when a date with your lady was full of simple pleasures:
In those days you could take a young lady on a great date for a couple of dollars. With some homemade popcorn, brownies, and soda pop, we headed for the local drive-in movie theater for the latest flick. With a dab of Brylcream for our hair and splash of Old Spice for our faces we were ready to take on the world. It was a simple world with few worries and less complications.
When I was young I used to grow tired of my parents and grandparents talking about the days long ago. What they talked about seemed so antiquated and unreal. As a teacher in the classroom I often shared stories of those days of long ago. My students seemed to enjoy my stories but you could tell they couldn’t connect with what we went through in those “old fogie” days.
On a more encouraging note, many of the students I share with genuinely yearn for our days of simplicity. Today life is lived in the fast lane of life. In the 50s we drove in a slower lane and could easily pull off and relax under a tree in a rest area. Today’s young people are caught up in world of fast driving, fast technology, fast music and fast marriages, not to mention fast communication and social connection. When I share about the slower days of rock and roll and Saturday night cruising, you can see the yearning in their eyes for those days of simple pleasures.
In the good ol’ days when I wanted to talk to Mary I had to wait until I was near a land line phone and hope she also was near one so I could give her a call. Now, young people can tweet their friends in the twinkling of an eye and everyone has a smart phone on their person wherever they are. Anything that happens in the world can be known instantaneously by anyone carrying the right technology. All of this tends to speed things up around us and squeeze out the precious times of quiet communication we all yearn for. We are rushing down the freeways to a job that rushes us around doing God only knows what in a world at hurricane speed. We don’t have time to eat together and if we do the young ones are off in a world of texting and game playing.
I am not one of those who believe all of the new technology to be a terrible evil that is pulling us away from simpler ways. What I do believe is that with each passing generation we are losing the connection that makes for happiness. Every generation has its challenges. In the 50s we had the emergence of rock and roll, radio, and fast cars. Our parents thought we were crazy to embrace the likes of Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker or Connie Francis. The lyrics of our songs seemed so bizarre to them. Imagine them hearing, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “The Twist,” “Duke of Earl,” or “The Monster Mash” for the first time. I’m sure they yearned for the good ol’ days of the big band era and Duke Ellington or the crooning of Perry Como.
The next generation can’t understand why we squint and frown at the looks of Lady Gaga or the sound of Killer Mike lambasting President Reagan. We grit our teeth at Schoolboy Q singing about “weed and brew” or “reefa and beer.” Many of us have been down those roads or know someone who has and it ain’t pretty. Every generation wants its uniqueness but a wise person will look for the things that connect not divide between the generations.
Every generation is a paradigm shift from the status quo of long ago. The trick is to realize the things that keep us standing on solid ground with the people in our lives. These are the things that should never change regardless of what is presently “cool” in the eyes of the young. Face to face communication is the key. When we lose that, we lose everything that matters. Love expressed through real words spoken in person, can never be replaced. No amount of tweeting can make up for a first hand hug or kiss.
I encourage the next generations to hold tight to the things that build love between individuals. If love is not in the pathway you are on, choose another pathway. That will make all the difference in your life. Keep in mind, also, that God is love. True love is not generated in the mind of man but in the heart of God. As we embrace love we embrace its Originator. He can communicate faster than Twitter or Facebook and the results are far more satisfying.
In the eyes of my fellow classmates of 1962 I saw much humility brought about by the devastation of life. I also saw the twinkling of love in their eyes produced by years of trying and failing at the challenges of life. I would not trade the experience I had this past weekend with my old friends for all the smart phones in the world. To my old friends—thank you for being there to share yourself after these many years. Love to you and yours.