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To Gen-X, "The Times they are a Changin'"
When our good friend Todd Matthew Kinney, age 35, jumped to his death from the 21st floor of the Malaysian hotel where he had been staying, my fiance' Pearly Jo and I realized that this was the first time someone close to either us had died; that is, one who was in our lives on a daily basis, or someone who wasn't a grandparent. I mentioned that fact to a couple of people the week following, as we were planning Todd's memorial service, and everyone to whom I mentioned it said the same thing. We all were neophytes in this desperate arena of sorrow and confusion. It was a very sad time for us, having to learn to grieve for a dear friend who filled our lives with joy and excitement and love.
Todd, a microbiologist, had been in Malaysia on business for a bio-tech company that cleans up messes made by the petroleum industry. He had been in Asia for three weeks when he decided to pass away on September 8, 2002. In just so happens that for several weeks prior to going overseas, Todd had been immersed in a turbulent and high-powered spiritual quest. That period for Todd was described very well by an anecdote told by another of Todd's good friends. On the day she heard Todd had died, she went to her Bible for consolation and coincidentally opened her Bible to II Corinthians 18: "…Because we look not to things that are seen but to things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." We all found that to be incredibly apropos, for during the time leading up to Todd's death he had been living a great deal of the time in the world of the unseen.

Each person has an almost limitless set of choices we can make at any given time, and I would be surprised if the readers of this article occasionally - maybe even just once -- didn't entertain the thought of what it might be like to leap in to the Great Unknown as Todd did. Unfortunately for his friends, while it took some amount of spectacular albeit bizarre courage to actually perform the freestyle skydiving act Todd did, making such a choice is one of those which one cannot clean up afterwards; it is pretty final and certainly no fun, for anyone involved.
And Todd believed in fun. I once said something to him in passing that he later told me he had taken as his mantra. I said, "Todd, you were born to festival." If Todd were to write his own epitaph, I would not be surprised if that is what he chose: "Born to Festival." He loved music, kids, animals, and nature. Returning to the New Testament, more than anyone I know Todd embodied the admonition of Jesus, whom they called The Christ: "Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." Todd looked at the world like a little child. Sadly we can never know what factors led up to Todd making that bizarre choice on September 8. But for someone who was in a deep spiritual quest and who lived life through the eyes of a child, it is understandable why he might have lost his hope in the world today. We are certainly living in some of the more dire and frightening times in recent memory.
The memorial service for Todd was going to be held on Friday September 13 by his Austin group of friends at Barton Springs Pool, one of Todd's favorite nature refuges, a place that resonates with spiritual peace for all Austin residents. Driving our way through Zilker Park, Pearly and I were listening to the new record Home by Austin's Dixie Chicks. The third track on the album is called "Travelin' Soldier" and was written by Austin songwriter Bruce Robison, brother-in-law to Chick Emily Robison. It's a song about a girl, too young to have a boyfriend but old enough to fall in love, who meets an 18-year-old soldier who is due to leave the next day for Vietnam. The soldier holds her hand and asks if he can write her letters from the War. She will "never hold the hand of another guy…waitin' for the soldier to come back again" From the war, he writes to her that it might be love and when he closes his eyes at night, he sees her pretty smile. Later in the year, at a Friday night football game, the names of the Vietnam dead are read aloud. With her piccolo, the girl in love hides under the bleachers, cries and swears she will never love another.
As I listened to Bruce Robison's beautiful and plaintive song, I thought, "Here I am: 36 years old, and I am going to the memorial for the only close friend I've ever had who has died; same with Pearly; same with many of us who would be gathered there at Barton Springs." It occurred to me how incredibly lucky our entire generation has been. I thought about the generation preceding, 18 and 20 year olds who lost many, many of their closest friends to the Vietnam conflict. And their parents, who sent so many of their loved ones off to die in World War II & Korea. And so-on, going back throughout American and world history.
How incredibly, unbelievably fortunate my generation has been! For those of us lucky enough to have been born in post-Baby-Boom America, we are the first generation in history to reach adulthood without experiencing the horrors of war. Sure, we all lived our childhoods in fear of The Bomb dropping on us; but it never did. And for awhile there, it looked like it never would.
They call us Generation X, because we have not had a defining zeitgeist like the civil rights movement or the wars in Asia. Compared to The Jazz Age, or The Beats, or The Baby Boomers, I have always felt like my generation has been invisible. The so-called "Greatest Generation" of WWII, the Baby-Boomers and the Generation Y'ers around us seem to have gotten all the attention. Those generations are well defined by their unique times. The closest Generation-X'ers have to an identity came from Richard Linklater's observant Slacker: a generation of passive observers, philosophizers, and people who generally like to lay low and watch. We are looked at as consumers of pop music, beer, and fast-food, a generation with little identity other than that provided to us by the TV we all grew up watching.

I must say this to all my fellow Generation-X'ers: I hope we all realize how lucky we are.

In our thirties, now that many of us have children who are not quite "draft age" but are enjoying the flower of their childhood, now that we are old enough to run for President of the United States, those of us born in the turbulent 60's need to reflect on the unique and blessed condition in which we find ourselves. We should think about how wonderful it has been to grow up with our friends and brothers and sisters into adulthood. None of us has experienced what it is like to lose half of the men - or more- in one's graduating class to the machines of war. None of us have had to make a pilgrimage to a war memorial and weep for our dear loved ones. None of us were faced with being drafted, having to go into the fires of battle, perhaps against our will. We have never had to face the decision: "Do I do my legal duty and fight and kill for my government or is my government doing the right thing when it decides to take up arms against distant enemies? Do I fight or flee?" Yes, we Generation-X'ers are in a truly unique and blessed condition in history.
As the next generation sits on pins and needles, poised under the aegis of a bellicose government and in the ashes of a befuddling national tragedy, those of us born in the 60's who are or will be soon making the decisions should recall how wonderful it has been to watch our generation grow to adulthood and fruition, how much fun we have had witnessing the enormous potential for creation and growth we all have. As we make decisions about the future for our nation and our world, we should remember that this next young generation - the youth of the 21st Century - faces the tragedy of losing classmates, brothers, and sisters - a fate which we GenXers seem to have cheated from Destiny.
I hope for the world that my generation of Americans, the first generation to actually realize such a wonderful fate to grow to adulthood in peace, will be the one to usher in a period of history when no one has to see their childhood friends come home from overseas in red, white, and blue boxes, dead as the wood that forms their coffins, rather than growing up to teach and create and live in love and joy. I guess I'm just another one of those dreamers John Lennon knew to be in the world when he wrote the song "Imagine." I take comfort that the slain prophet of our youth was certainly speaking the truth: "I'm not the only one."

- Chris Oglesby
- September 14, 2002
- (All Rights Reserved)

Copyright 2002
Chris Oglesby
All rights reserved

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