According to T.S. Eliot:
“What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make an end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from.”
That’s certainly true these days for many of us so-called Boomers or, as the New York Times graciously has termed us, Generation B (which I’ve reduced to Gen B because it sounds more like a secret age-reducing elixir). With now more to look backward on than to look forward to, we find ourselves questioning much that has gone before. And too often we don’t like what we see in the rear-view mirror and wish we could take a revisionist approach to our lives.
That was the basis for the story that became the novel, Eliot’s Tale. It’s not the usual mid-life temptations–a young chick or a new Harley–that have Eliot Smith casting about restlessly as he enters his fiftieth year on the planet in the year 2000, just before the world went crazy. What Eliot finds troubling as he looks back over his life is the nagging admonition in the Book of Common Prayer that he perhaps has been remiss “by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”
This sends him off on a meandering road trip from Virginia to Mississippi to Arizona and points in between, from family to long-lost friends to strangers with an intersecting tale, where the solo traveler finds that others will tell him things he wants or needs to know, letting him deal with things done or left undone. What he hears ranges from the outrageously funny to the deadly serious.
Since I am a card-carrying member of Gen B, I believe that virtually everyone has unresolved “things” in their past that can be nagging and troubling, whether minor or monumental. Sometimes it’s just something we wish we had handled differently or resolved at the time. But these also can be questions or perspectives that haunt us and affect us, even as we look to the future. For Eliot Smith, he decides the best way to move forward with his life, which has its issues, is to revisit people and situations from his past in order to try and understand them, for better or worse. He finds it’s not an easy process and certainly not painless.
Nor will it be for any of us who have the desire and fortitude to cast back, to review and reconsider the things that have made us who we are, brought us to this point in our existence. Certainly there are those who will argue that the past is the past, it can’t be changed, can’t be modified to suit selfish purposes–therefore, why bother. But as T.S. Eliot also so succinctly put it:
“Time past and time future/What might have been and what has been/point to one end, which is always present.”
Which implies, particularly if you believe in a collective consciousness, that everything is there before us. It’s a choice how to deal with it, and not necessarily an easy one. There are things you might discover, about yourself and others, that will not be pleasant. Then again, you may rediscover something or someone that brings pleasure to your existence, impacts your future. That’s what happens when perspectives change with time and place, what keeps life interesting. However, we have to keep in mind nostalgia is fine, but it can’t keep us from facing reality.
This then is a place to observe and comment, gather information and disseminate it, for better or worse. A friend who suggested this process says that all of us in or near the Boomer years are susceptible to what he calls the “Eliot Effect,” that desire to understand what has come before in order to prepare for and, hopefully, enjoy the future. Or just to recall some of the memories, to relive those moments that matter, to hear again that certain song or read that book or view that movie that, at a certain moment in time, had an impact on us. That can be a good thing.
One final note: This also might be a good place for children and grandchildren of Boomers to learn some things that might help them understand and better appreciate their crazy parents and the world that produced them.