by Charles Redfern, simultaneously published on www.creedible.com
It was a scene of devastation, a veritable slaughterhouse. You could almost hear the silent screams of brain cells as they met their doom.
The scene: A spacious home somewhere in Simsbury, CT. The date: July 31, 2010. The occasion: Members of a 1970’s Christian youth group reunited for the first time in 30-odd years and recalled their own Jesus Freak era: they prayed together before high school classes began, held Bible studies at their own initiative – first in their own homes, then in the living room of a young pastor and his wife – and launched a coffee house in the Dutch Point vicinity of Hartford and another in Bloomfield, our home town. We were ecumenical (there were some Catholics among the Protestants and each attended his or her own family’s church on Sunday); we were bold (hear their high school friends hack and mutter, “try obnoxious”); and we were young – which meant our muscle-bound brain cells pumped iron. So we could remember things. And think. And run the 100-yard dash. And remember things …
Oh. Said that already.
Flash forward to July 31. Four youth group members had become pastors (me being one of them); most are reasonably fit, although all leave the dashes to the kids. A few are grandparents. And all speak a strange language linguists only recently classified: “Fifty-something.” It’s a subtle dialect, founded upon miscues, rabbit trails, and blank spaces. Historic moments revolve around the ages of children and their respective progression in school. A sample sentence: “So we were driving to the White Mountains – this is when Billy was eight and Sarah was seven … Or was Billy nine and Sarah eight? No. Couldn’t-a been. Billy was in second grade and Sarah was in first, so they had to be eight and seven … Or maybe not … How old are second graders? … I was eight, but they held me back …”
Take a nap during the subsequent movie-length debate about a second grader’s average age – except if you’re like my Suzy, who was a high honors student and left her pals in the dust, so they forced her into graduate school at such a young age, poor kid (all others think: “Good going. You snuck in your daughter’s intellectual superiority. Please be quiet now.”). The original topic – “So we were all driving to the White Mountains” – has met the brain cells’ fate.
The “fifty-something” dialect is almost indecipherable to outsiders when members discuss names and events: “Remember when … uh, you know – what’s-his-name, the guy who went out with … that girl: she was a cheerleader, I think. She had blond hair and always wore blue socks (inconsequential details fly in, clear as a bell) … Anyway, he drove his car to Drug City (I kid you not: there was a Bloomfield store with that very name) and he … I forgot what he did …”
But no worries. Other fifty-something’s rush to the rescue: “Oh yeah: That guy. Bob Smith. Went out with Tammy Jones, and he drove over to Drug City to … to … to …” Someone else: “ … to yell at the pharmacist because he didn’t fill in his grandmother’s prescription. I wasn’t supposed to know this because it was confidential, but the grandmother once had malaria because she was the oldest Peace Corps volunteer in Panama. She still suffered from its effects. The grandmother’s name was … uh …” Another: “Doris! She was famous because she …” Still another: “… Did a classic paint-by-numbers portrait that wound up in the Smithsonian! Who would-a thunk it?”
It’s all due to the massive slaughter of innocent brain cells – and yet no one advocates their plight.
But the fifty-something’s are a hardy group. They’ve developed coping mechanisms and round-about comprehension strategies. While few understand them, they swim in each other’s stream and ferret entire narratives with precious little information. Another sample:
“Remember … uh … Don’t tell me … It’s right there, on the tip of my …”
“I told you not to tell me!”
“Sorry. Go on.”
“Anyway, Doug had a daughter. I hear she has a great job somewhere. She, uh … she …”
“She’s undersecretary of state for Asian affairs and lives in Washington.”
All of which illuminates the brilliance of our age group. Could twenty-year-old’s function with so few brain cells in the wake of a massive, inhuman slaughter? How would they cope while the isolated, traumatized, and out-numbered survivors valiantly fought their doomed struggle against the advancing armies of age? And yet, here we are. We rough-hewn middle-agers manage corporations, law firms, and nations. It’s quality, not quantity; wisdom, not knowledge; value, not volume. And that brings me to the sonorous climax of this essay, the purpose and theme, the goal, the intention, the thrust, the point – which is …
… Uh …
I’ll get back to you.