I was spending my Sunday morning at Songbird Cafe as is my ritual, when a large eclectic group of twenty-somethings rode up on their even-more-eclectic collection of bikes, circling the front of the building in a single-file line like Native American warriors in an old western. The descended on the coffee shop, dismounted, and wheeled their bikes in the front door, quickly tripling the number of customers in the room.
Given that Songbird isn’t that large and that I had forgotten my headphones, it was impossible not to overhear some of their conversations. I learned that this particular group of pedal pushers was part of Phoenix Spokes People. I hadn’t heard of the group before, but a quick read through their web site gave me the highlights.
They are a local cycling group, dedicated to making Phoenix a better place to ride, both for fun but also as viable day to day transportation. They work to raise awareness of the issue of bicycle safety and accessibility, and speak at City of Phoenix budget hearings towards that end.
So while they get together and bike for fun (although two hours in this mornings humidity suggests otherwise to me), they also work to make their city a better place.
Another conversation sprung up between friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while, and rather than the typical “just working,’ ya know” response I tend to give to the “what have you been up to?” question, this young man explained that he’s been dedicating his time to bringing the largest green and sustainable living event in the US to Phoenix in 2015…or something to that effect.
Behind me, I overheard someone chatting up a new-to-Phoenix transplant, who had moved into the slowly revitalizing downtown area. Whoever he was talking to was excitedly talking about the cool network of independent coffee shops and cafes in the area, and he explained that he had actually chosen to live in this area because of spots like Jobot and Songbird. They made suggestion after suggestion to add to his list of locally-owned shops and foods to try, referencing the handy Phoenix Coffee Culture poster on the wall. Turns out she was involved in the design or production of the posters.
I decided to vacate the couch so three other people could sit down, and find someplace more quiet to continue whittling down the weekend reading list.
And also not feel badly about just sitting there not contributing to the world.
Would you like a side of activism with your cappuccino?
I drove north for a bit, and ended up at Giant Coffee. I took the open parking spot right in front of the door as a sign. Once inside, it wasn’t much quieter, as the long table in the middle was occupied by a growing group of six or eight boisterous guys working on an upcoming community event.
Doesn’t anybody just sleep in on Sunday mornings anymore?
As I sit here, a new feeling begins to creep in… brought on by all these young people dedicated to these various causes, working for a better community, excitedly optimistic and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
The feeling is that I am living in the wrong time.
Not like those who say “I should have lived in Colonial times,” or “I would have been a great knight,” because, well, the Dark Ages and dysentery and all that. But sometimes I feel like I missed my ideal time by about 20 years.
I love most of the things about the current state of our civilized life, at least the ones that don’t have to do with better ways to kill each other from a distance. Our technology is amazing and always improving. It’s unheard of anymore that a disease wipes out entire generations or groups. We can put frozen ingredients into a microwave and a meal comes out. Electric cars. Smartphones. The internet.
I just feel like…what else is coming? What if I was twenty years old today and had this world at my fingertips? What could I do if this was where I started?
I’d like to think I would be involved like the Millennials, but who knows. For every hyper-involved community-minded young person there are probably fifty who sit at their computer and play video games and eat Funyuns all day. Statistically it makes more sense that I would have been in that number.
Because I kind of like Funyuns.
Last night we celebrated my grandmothers 90th birthday, surrounded by friends and family. I’m curious if she ever feels/felt that way. Does she ever imagine what her life would have been like if she had been born into the sixties, or the eighties, or today?
She’s seen so much in her lifetime, I can’t help but wonder if there were times when she saw nothing but potential in the world around her. Maybe that thought crossed her mind when she saw the moon landing, or perhaps in the eighties when the artificial heart was invented? Today those are old news, but back then, those events would have certainly left me thinking the world was amazing, and that things could only get better from there.
Also at the table was a couple of my younger cousins from the other side of the country. The youngest, a talented photographer who happens to be a sophomore in high school, just got back from a trip to India, of which one of the highlights was getting to see the Dalai Lama celebrate his birthday.
His older brother is in college now, but a few years ago, he went to Thailand and worked with an organization that smuggles children across a border so they could attend school during the day, then sneak back into their home province at night.
In high school I was a worked at Red Lobster, primarily for car insurance money. Saving and/or travelling the world wasn’t even on my radar. Even when I got to college, the whole plan was to just graduate and get a good enough job to pay back my student loans.
Ah, yes, big dreams, had I.
What it took was getting a corporate job, and I was lucky to get it. But with that security comes a cubicle and punching a time card and dealing with layers of management to get anything done. It only requires you give in, little by little, until you look back at your life and know you spent a large percentage making no difference in the world other than increasing your 401k balance. It’s still the old way of thinking; find a good job, at a good company, and stay there forever.
Then, when you’re done working, then go do something you’re passionate about.
You know, with the years you have left.
Today’s young people don’t even see that as an option; it probably never even crosses their minds. I guess that’s what happens when you’re still in school and are told that the chance of finding a job in your field when you graduate is slim. Might as well find something you’re passionate about to dedicate your life to while you’re riding out the student loan clock, right? I suppose the added carrot on the end of the stick is that if you’re really lucky and the stars align, that which you’re passionate could become your career.
I know every generation probably says this, but the youth of today have so many opportunities to make a difference if they really want to. It seems like you can’t shake an organic stick in any direction without hitting some community action group that’s striving to make Phoenix or Arizona or the world a better place to live.
And then there was this light bulb moment
A thought just occurred to me: maybe this feeling isn’t about being born too soon. Perhaps this is just the mindset that comes with age. Maybe this is as simple as just subconciously wishing I was a bit younger, just starting out, with this version of the world at my doorstep. Maybe this feeling is just nostalgia for a time when one had the freedom to act on what they really wanted to be doing, as opposed to what the responsible adult decision would be.
Because, if you know where to look, it isn’t difficult to see the potential in a world primed for change. Sure, maybe it won’t be the same as when we were younger, but like they say, it’s never too late to get involved, or work to make a difference.
It’s just up to us to get off the couch and join the cause, whatever that cause may be.