Gen X Tears are Gen Z Tears
What if we are our own arrival fallacy?
I couldn’t cry at the start of the pandemic so I drove to a parking lot, assuming the irony of a strip mall would set something off. It didn’t. Then, I drove to a graveyard with a giant Jesus statue and stared at its stone eyes, but no tears came.
The moment I realized the pandemic was real was the Tuesday when school shut down. I went to the 90s bathroom with the shell sink near my bedroom and called my friend Michelle. The Seattle-area was hit with Covid first in the U.S., and its reported spread to the Midwest where she lives wouldn’t come for a few more weeks.
As my friend prayed I sat on the pink and white tile and hung my head. I believed what I knew in my head to be true: Control is a myth.
As a Christian, I’ve learned in the past two years that accepting we’re not in control of the outcome of our lives is not the same as trusting that God is actually in control. There is a space in between these two truths. We need a bridge between the realization that we are not in control but God is. I have not yet crossed this bridge, not fully.
There was a brief window in Seattle when Delta was down, before omicron hit, when I went out a bit more. Walking into the venue in Seattle’s Central District, I saw that I was quite possibly the oldest person in attendance. I spotted one guy with gray hair on the balcony, another possible 40-something. Everyone else looked maybe 23.
I was flooded with a sense of joy as I watched the mostly Gen Z fans watch the concert. I loved their clothes, which were no particular style that somehow had their own careful, layered sensibility. I watched their earnest postures, totally fixed in silence on stage. Singing along to Adrianne Lenker lyrics, “I wanna sleep in your car while you're driving. Lay on your lap whеn I'm crying.”
Millennials don’t like Boomers, the news stories go. Gen X is sandwiched between two big generations and are often overlooked in adulthood like we were in our latch key kid days. But as an LA Times article on Gen Z in the office points out, Gen Z are the kids of us Gen X-ers:
“Why is Gen Z less narcissistic, harder-working, and more open than millennials? Was it the #MeToo movement? Trans rights? Climate change?” No, it’s because they weren’t raised by boomers.”
Instead of the “me” generation, they were parented by us saddies in Gen X.
Of course, I see it now. I wasn’t nostalgic at the concert, I was maternal.
The arrival fallacy is the belief that if we can achieve a desired outcome, we will find happiness. Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar uses the term in his book Happier: Learn The Secrets To Daily Joy And Lasting Fulfillment.
Maybe like you, I’ve been moving towards one arrival fallacy or another throughout the pandemic. If I can just get the vaccine, it will be ok. If my kid can get the kid vaccine, we will maybe be happy. The dot on the horizon we move towards is always receding.
Maybe there’s something healthy here, a way we can be motivated to move ahead. In pure form, it is hope. But the problem comes when we think we’ll find piles of diamonds and pearls at some just ahead destination. A clamshell we can swim to on the horizon, pry open with bloody knuckles and string its pearls on our aging necks. Drink the salty nectar and float back to shore.
In As Good As it Gets, Jack Nicholson says a line about noodle salad. I think of it, till this day, a ridiculous amount:
Some [people] have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car.
Instead of moving towards an arrival fallacy involving my own version of noodle salad, I am entering year three of the pandemic with a sad report that life feels harder than it ever has. Heavy and light are mashed up in many of our spirits. Ordinary days end with crushing news or a twist that brings new change.
Desolation and Consolation, on Repeat
Ignatian spirituality talks about seasons of desolation and consolation. When we move toward God’s love we can be met with consolation. Desolation comes when we move away from God.
Happiness is not a requirement of consolation. In fact, it is possible to be met and filled with God’s love and peace in consolation, even as we face a dog-pile of afflictions.
Consolation is our bridge. It connects us when we have learned we are out of control and need God to take the wheel. But to get there, we have to believe God is good. Because if we don’t trust in God’s nearness and goodness, then our anxiety will always keep us stuck and searching for the next arrival fallacy.
Here is where my feet are caught in the net. With questions like: How is God near and good when nothing is getting better? How is heaven real and not a self-management tool, the ultimate self-soother of the mind, after 5.5 million people died of Covid? Can free will be this vicious? At my lowest moment, it seems God is nearer in daily superstitions, magic genie prayers for parking spaces, then my whole life. Yet while holding our questions, even deep and wide ones, we can believe that in the end, all things will be made new, that there is milk and honey.
Patti & Robert
The era of life I’m in makes me less interested in control. In many ways, I still feel like a 23-year-old in baggy pants and neon beanies like the kids I saw at that concert. I wanted to feel the sad and true things in those days, the privilege of emoting. Reading the Russians, watching foreign films. Putting my own future into a series of complex stories that typically involved happily eating ramen on a blanket in some unfurnished city apartment, simply feeling alive. Patti and Robert at The Chelsea Hotel.
But the truth is I am not carefree. I am comforted by British bakers and Ted Lasso for a reason. Many things have not turned out the way I self-narrated them in my 20s. Loss is more real, our bodies begin to fail, we are sandwiched as caregivers for parents and children. To cope, we often buy into a wellness industry that is a self-care band-aid for what our soul craves.
Pain, sorrow and loss are not melancholy-cool like a sad movie. They cut, they weigh, they suck. There is no longer just vicarious suffering that comes after hearing or watching something meaningful. But still, decades later, I think I can get to a place of happiness from my own ingenuity. A noodle salad of the mind.
Instead, as we complete the release of control with full dependence on God’s nearness and goodness in the presence of affliction, a slow beauty burns through the fog of grief. Christ is a haunting. A consolation.
What if we are our own arrival fallacy? We think we can get there on our own, to some form of understanding and happiness fueled by green juice, better rest. And even then, when it’s clear we’re good at trying to protect ourselves with the message we’re the one who can set ourselves free, God can change us.
Reading & Listening
Read, then read this David Brooks op-ed again: “There can probably be no evangelical renewal if the movement does not divorce itself from the lust for partisan political power. Over more than a century, Catholics have established a doctrine of social teaching that helps them understand how the church can be active in civic life without being corrupted by partisan politics. Protestants do not have this kind of doctrine.” [NYT]
A fresh defense of shame: “Vulnerability has been commodified, but so has a certain never-apologize mentality, despite the fact that the two are diametrically opposed.” [Gawker]
“Some sociologists believe that the rising number of non-religious Americans is a reaction against rightwing evangelicals. But that’s just part of the story.” [Guardian]
I was fascinated with (and encouraged by) this article on skepticism and present-day “signs and wonders”. [CT]
My kid is pretty into Charles Bradley’s music right now, and we’ve watched this performance of “Changes” many times. A live recording from our local independent station KEXP’s performance space. Truly, it’s one of the most moving performances I’ve ever watched. [KEXP]