Looking Up

Born in 1963, I am at the tail end of the Baby Boomers. No matter how much medicine advances over the next few decades, most of us boomers will be gone in 50 years and I wonder about things that are lost. I mean, when it comes to The Greatest Generation, one no longer runs across people, very often anyway, who fought in WWII. But when I was growing up, I met and spoke with WWII veterans all the time. They were my teachers and neighbors and all my friend’s granddads.

Well, the list is endless, isn’t it? One day there will be no one left who remembers a time before personal computers. I fully expect, should I have any geeky grandchildren (what are the odds?), to watch their mouths drop open as I describe using an Apple IIc, or playing pong, not in exactly the same way I held my grandfather in awe because his ship sank at Pearl Harbor, but you get the idea.

And this is the way of things. I do not lament it, but I am curious. I have realized that one thing that will be lost with Baby Boomers is looking up. I’m not being flippant.

My father and second dad (both of the Silent Generation) look up more than half the time when a plane flies overhead. When I was a kid, my dad looked up at almost every plane. He may have looked up more than most because he was working for an airplane manufacturer, but all my friends’ dads did it too. My grandfathers looked up at planes too. And I look up at anything that is not a high and distant passenger jet, and even then I look up often.

The Xers and Millennials, they don’t look up so much. A few months ago I was taking to a young man in his early 20’s and we were standing under the flight path for a nearby Air Force base. As various transports and miscellaneous aircraft flew over, I was looking up at every single one. I mean I can ignore passengers jets, but military aircraft, c’mon. And then I realized that he didn’t understand what was going on and he was getting impatient with my inattention.

I explained about the planes. I explained how, when my dad was growing up, the skies were transforming from propellers to jets. The sky was full of wonder and planes moved across the sky at ever increasing speeds. My grandfathers grew up at a time when planes were still a marvel. The nose of the Greatest Generation was born before Kitty Hawk. The Millennial kid understood and accepted what I was saying, but he had no empathy.

I inherited the habit of looking up, but it is a habit that will not survive being twice removed from the jet age fascination of my father. Perhaps, when things begin to hover and float and generally defy our current understanding of gravity, kids will start looking up again.

It is a small loss, I know. It’s not the last Civil War soldier (1956 if you can believe it), or the last WWII veteran (more than 500 die every day and we will dip below the 1% remaining mark this year). It’s a random and low impact loss, the generations who looked up. The generations that follow will be those who looked elsewhere, and perhaps with unimaginable results when all is said and done. But I thought it deserved a mention. Here’s to looking up.

December 2015