Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

But I was much older then

I thought it was a line from a Beatles song but today's title (slightly paraphrased) is from Bob Dylan's back pages. But his folk rock paean is in different territory than where it came to my mind, an article by my favorite contemporary author, Frederica Matthewes-Green. The published version of "Against Eternal Youth" in First Things magazine is edited from a talk Matthewes-Green gave earlier this year at Calvin College in Michigan. Many things about Frederica-the-writer appeal to me: she's the most articulate, most widely published and most fair and balanced author and public speaker in the pro-life movement; she's a former feminist/campus activist now one of the most widely published Eastern Orthodox writers; she had a life-changing encounter with a statue in a Dublin cathedral when she was not a practicing Christian; she's the wife of the priest at a small Orthodox parish in Maryland that I've visited. But the main thing I like about her writing is that she takes simple ideas like "eternal youth" or "what does sex mean" and rings changes on them that strike me as ingenious. And in this case it's an idea that I've toyed with myself for several years. This lead paragraph for her "Against Eternal Youth" sets the stage:

I'm a fan of old movies, the black-and-whites from the 30's and 40's, in part because of the things this time-travel reveals about how American culture has changed. One thing that's struck me lately is how differently the adults in these films carry themselves, walk and speak. It seems adults used to have a whole different kind of bearing. It's hard sometimes to figure out how old the characters are supposed to be. They seem to be portraying a phase of the human life-cycle that we don't even *have* any more.

I've had the same train of thought just looking through old yearbooks, but I'm sufficiently older than Frederica, I think, to actually "remember" when I was older than I was later. I wanted to be "older" when I was 20 and the editor of the Nanty Glo Journal than I wanted to be when I was in campus ministry in Santa Barbara 10 years later. I wore a shirt and tie much of the time in my "adult" job in Nanty Glo, but using the advent and influence of "the hippies" as my excuse, I seldom wore such grown-up attire in Isla Vista, the "student ghetto" my bride and infant daughter lived in at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Before I moved to California, still working in New Jersey, I researched and published a 100-page monograph on the hippy phenomenon of the late '60's, interviewing subjects in Baltimore, New York's East Village, and mixing with "be-ins" and "communal households" from Philadelphia to Seattle and San Francisco. When the importance and lasting impact of the the hippy phenomenon struck me, it dawned on me that this was a strike back of "our" generation, refusing to grow up. Though I was intrigued and positively inclined toward it at the time, it was an entirely accurate assessment of what "our generation" was doing and in retrospect I know it was not good for us and was even worse for our children and now grandchildren. We all laugh at Michael Jackson's playing Peter Pan, but in a sense we all (not literally, of course, but to enough extent that it has warped our whole culture) have been doing the same thing for different, mainly narcissistic reasons. We're now 60-something kids still refusing to grow up and still fascinated by our own "futures," even as we've been seeing our contemporaries die off at an increasing rate. How this has worked out is the substance of Frederica's article and I won't repeat it; my topic is my own experience of this phenomenon.

We "baby boomers" were programmed by the way we were raised in the wake of World War II and the Great Depression to think of ourselves as eternally young; it was our parents' way of protecting us from the horrors they lived through that was well intentioned but eventually has been counter-productive. Though the ideals we absorbed were not all bad, pieces torn out of our characters were never regained, and our children and children's children don't know where to look for them, either. The quest for eternal youth that made its sharpest outcropping in what was called the hippy or flower-children phenomenon of 1967-69, begot the Jesus people movement of the 1970s, which is now in the leadership of what is disparagingly called the "Christian right" in mainstream media, but that in turn has created reactionary ideological movements and stances that now provide the themes of today's left side of the culture wars.

Reactions; arguments or affirmations; personal experiences to share?

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Dear God, is Reverend Coe a friend of yours, or do you just know him through the business? Donny

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