A Simpler Time

“Life seemed to be a lot simpler then.”

-My Grandfather

The year is 1953. As the final sonata is played for the Korean War, lucky families are listening to the first transistor radios. Puerto Rico becomes a self-governing commonwealth of the United States. And in their hometown in upstate New York, my grandfather and grandmother marry and begin their life as a family. sony_transitor_radio

Life was different, as life tends to be, in years or decades past. Growing up in the Great Depression, my grandfather was lucky when there was a nickel for milk at school. He and his peers grew up to fight in the wars, marry young and promise their children an better life.

“In those days, people got married a lot younger than they do today,” my grandpa wrote me. “At 23, I was the proud father of a beautiful baby girl named Cindy.” And the same year my mother was born, my grandfather started his job as a printer at the local newspaper, a job which he held faithfully for over 38 years.

Life seemed a lot simpler then.

The year is now 2016. I look around at my own life and try to draw parallels back to my grandfather’s journey. I compare trajectories of the working young adult, level of education and current marital status. Working?  Some of my peers, these so called millennials, have worked for almost as many companies as numbers of years spend out of college. My “career path” alone spans two states and four companies in as many years. Married? Most of my friends do not boast a ring on their finger and I’m three years older than my grandfather when my mother came into the world. save-the-date-logo

 We rely on fast promotions in lieu of job security and promised pensions. The idea of company loyalty is a myth of the past, akin to horse drawn carriages and the neighborhood milkman. Then there’s love. If we don’t find a partner in high school, undergraduate studies, or graduate classes, we often resort to online dating. In her book All the Single Ladies, Rebecca Traister describes the increasing marrying age for woman in the United States. Currently, the average age for a woman getting married is 27, up from 23 in 1990. And that’s if they marry at all. Suddenly, the marriage conversation has shifted from WHEN to IF. Even with a steady boyfriend, my answer to marriage is still a big…maybe. The world of jobs and love has rebranded itself; the rule book from my grandfather’s generation was tossed aside years ago. 293892_4013625783339_1407785132_n

I will be attending two weddings this summer, making a grand total of four since I graduated from college. I truly believe these wonderful young men and women have made heartfelt commitments of love with open eyes and caring hearts. But the vast majority of my friends are still unwed and plan to remain that way long past the now “average” age of 27. Brides are no longer 18 or 19 fresh out of high school but 29 and 30 ready to have children and begin a joined life in matrimony.

I wonder what my grandfather’s generation would say in comparison to their own lives: joys and disappointments, opportunities and setbacks. As I struggle to find similarities between my reality and this simpler time I can’t help but ask,

What have we lost? What will we gain?

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That is the Question?

As children, we question everything. “Why is the sky blue?” “What’s in this soup?” “Where do dead things go?” It is our way of examining the world with our tiny magnifying glasses of innocence and wonder. To me, asking questions was an effortless and necessary part of figuring out people, objects, and my pet cat Charlie to which I was allergic.

In high school, we would get extra points for having questions whenever a guest speaker came to talk. Before the first sentence was uttered, hands would be raised flapping in the air like birds in flight. The answers were never important. The fact that we had come up with a question was satisfaction enough.

Questions in college got harder to ask and even harder to answer. The questions required thought and the answers were less available in their purest form, reduced to scratched prisms that twisted and bended beams of thought. I started to learn the power of the question, of a question, in how one lives life and values the opinions of others. I wanted to ask a big question, an important question. And this desire to find one large, expansive question lead me to my decision to write a senior thesis.

At the end of my junior year, my thesis question seemed far away and full of possibility. I could research whatever interested me, searching for answers to the question I posed. But that question is no longer a mirage in the distance. Yesterday, my thesis advisor informed me that I had a lot of great ideas about the Philippines, its social structure, and internationally funded environmental protection projects. My adventures over the summer would definitely come in handy over the next 7 months when I would begin to wrestle with the available data. But right now what I needed most of all…was a question. A simple request at the surface, but coming up with just one question proved harder than I could have imagined. And I am struggling…

My grandfather sent me a gift last week, tucked inside one of his homemake cardboard boxes. The small wooden carving about two inches high had come alone. No note, no explanation. But isn’t that the way of questions?  They often appear quite out of the blue, just to make sure you’re paying attention.