A Little Nostalgia and a Bit of Perspective

This is probably the winter of 1966. The women on either end were juniors at SUNY Albany. The woman in the middle was a temporary commemoration of a huge snow storm.


Life seemed simple then. Our biggest protest, so far, was against Nelson Rockefeller's decision to raise our tuition. We raised money to send students south to work on voter registration, but it all felt very much removed from life in Albany. The world around us was beginning to change in some very big ways, but I think that we were still a little innocent and very naive and didn't see it coming.

Lately, I've had many opportunities to revisit that era, to re-experience events and to fill in the blanks. Although John Kennedy was assassinated when I was a college freshman and I can still see us all sitting around the one TV in our dorm, watching in stunned silence, I don't remember any of us thinking about the implications of the event. By the time Martin Luther King, and then Robert Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968, it was as if we were living in a different universe. We knew very well that the world had changed.

It wasn't until I saw All The Way that I realized how much had gone on in such a short time -- the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the escalation of our involvement in Viet Nam, Johnson's decision to to seek reelection, the Chicago Democratic Convention, anti-war protests, SDS, the takeover of the Columbia University campus. It makes my head whirl.

I'm barely into Gail Sheehy's Daring My Passages and am similarly overwhelmed by all the things that were going on. Protests. Happenings. Andy Warhol's Factory. Carnaby Street and hippies. It felt like there was something going on every minute. New York Radical Feminists. Woodstock. Consciousness Raising Groups. The fight for reproductive rights. Somehow, we fit all this into a schedule of work, parties and cultural events. It's no wonder I don't remember a lot of it. As I read Sheehy's recollections, though, they're much closer to my own. I remember that first issue of Ms. sandwiched inside the still-new New York Magazine.

So now, as I approach a birthday that marks the last year of a decade, I wonder what to make of all this. And of changes yet to come. I think of an interview I did with a woman who was at Kent State in 1970. She speaks of trying to find a pay phone to contact her parents. It's hard to even imagine that today. My cohort has survived moving into the digital age. I wrote my dissertation on a Commodore 64. I had to divide most of the chapters because they were too large for that tiny memory. Today, I can dictate into my phone and store in the cloud.

I wonder if, the older I get, life will seem simple again. In my 20s, I maintained a limited view of the world, not seeing more than I could handle perhaps. Will that be my final decades as well? Or will I be like Audrey Hepburn, working for the rights of children to the end, or Grandma Moses, discovering painting nearer the end of her life than the beginning. How will I make sense of my life (Do I want to?) What stories will I tell?

As I watch TV and movies and theater relive their versions of my life, I wonder how the rest of the barely pre-Boomers and early Boomers are looking back at all this. And how we might put together the mosaic of our memories to create a blended story.