Nothing has made me feel my status as a middle-aged millennial quite like the increased use of a face mask. I followed a college-aged group out of the grocery store, who I had seen inside. They had been shopping like newly minted roommates, testing out the edges of bawdy humor but still carefully polite with one another, and still sliding in "Excuse me, ma'am" to the likes of me. The whole group was unmasked, while most solo shoppers were masked.
They climbed into their Jeep, and I loaded my groceries into the back of my sedan, huffing and puffing into my mask, which I looked forward to stripping off. It wasn't the first group of young'uns that I had seen unmasked, and I felt a bit strange about my mental tsk-tsking.
The next morning, it came up in conversation — that it surprised me the younger crowd seemed so cavalier. "Is it us? Are we more hardened or more frightened?" I asked. My husband replied, "We're more prepared."
"Oh?" I said.
He explained: "Once-in-a-lifetime economic collapse via a Great Recession? Check." He tapped the kitchen table with his hand. "Once-in-a-lifetime terrorist attack on the country? Check." He slapped the table. "Once-in-a-lifetime pandemic?" He slapped the table repeatedly. I began to laugh and said: "Of course! Why not?! Bring it; we're READY."
Now, granted, our generation had been secretly eager for the zombie apocalypse — the one where we'd be in the Jeep fending off the nameless undead and, upon victory, drive off into the sunset as heroes. We didn't expect that a good deal of us would be asked to cue up our Netflix and figure out how much we should tip our delivery driver — or that we'd have guilt when closing the door behind us that we were the lucky ones having food delivered and not the ones marked with the new quizzical buzzword "essential."
I've watched with some amusement the zombielike invasion of millennials into the TikTok realm during quarantine. It cemented millennials' generational ease with the repetition of "once in a lifetime" events. Among the millennial crowd, there was an immediate complacency with joining a new social media, since we've seen a few of those crop up. There's even some pride that we're the "older folks" creeping on the young'uns.
There's also shared relief from repeatedly experiencing a dose of general world weariness. That dosing was served with a dash of depressed people pouring alcohol in most TikTok videos. Hear experts claiming catastrophe? Well, that's not new for us. Let's grab our toilet paper and our masks and keep calm with the White Claw.
However, what is new is watching the division spread like a cancer through the same society that told us we could be anything, and if anything, we could be stronger when on a path of virtue together. Now we can't even agree on what is virtuous?
Lately, I've been reading about virtues in my old Berenstain Bears books with my kids. There's some novelty in looking back to when it was strange when Mama Bear got a job, but there's comfort in reviewing the basics: Have manners. Pick up after yourself. And before you become a bully against a bully, think twice about whether that's the best way to resolve a problem.
That said, I'm telling my kids that, yes, you can be whatever you want, but you must work hard to become that. You can't just follow an aspiration for some future of acclaim that you think should be yours just because someone else wrote that story.
We millennials are starting to figure out something simple about our story: This is our lifetime, and it's the only one we get, just like everyone else. We'll try to manage our way through more events, all new to our lifetime and hopefully shaped by the same virtues told to us by those who might have seen it all before.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: rottonara at Pixabay