By Nadira A. Hira
January 15, 2009

Every time I watch a confirmation hearing or hear talk of a stimulus plan or find out about yet another inauguration to-do, I can’t help but think about how much work there actually is to do.

This, I’m told, is a very Gen Y impulse, the product of being young, sleep-deprived, and raised on Mr. Rogers, who told us we really could do whatever we liked. But I think it probably has more to do with getting older, and coming to grips with what exactly our future might hold. Sure, we’ve got the Wii, and HDTV, and Google, but those only go so far when you’re unemployed, drowning in debt and lamenting the plight of the polar bear.

It’s a topsy-turvy world out there, and while every generation has experienced some of that, the real grown-ups in my life say that feeling does seem more pervasive than ever, reaching into just about every aspect of life – from foreign policy to the domestic struggles of young vets, from student loans to the greatest economic instability since the Depression, from joblessness at home to the perils (human rights, environmental and otherwise) of globalization abroad. Or maybe we just hear about it more.

Regardless, I know this worldview might appear a tad extreme, so in the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d give you a little insight into what I saw and heard this week to put me in such a lovely frame of mind – a small snapshot of one Y perspective.

5 signs of the apocalypse, and why they made me think of you…

  1. Gold might as well be fur. Last night, I told my boyfriend I’m off gold. I’m not that flash to begin with – and I’ve been off diamonds for a while for obvious reasons – but after reading National Geographic’s January cover story, “Gold: The True Cost of a Global Obsession,” I couldn’t believe I hadn’t already known to eschew gold. “For all of its allure, gold’s human and environmental toll has never been so steep,” author Brook Larmer writes. At this rate, I’m going to have to take up an ascetic lifestyle. I already had to stop eating shrimp. My sister’s even done with Coca-Cola. And if anyone ever marries me, it’ll probably be without a ring (and not because I’m easygoing). It’s easy to dismiss as a whole lot of fanatacism, but with the amount and visibility of information that’s out there, we’re going to learn some things we don’t like. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. On the contrary, we should be grateful we do know, and doing our best to act on that knowledge when we can.
  2. Everyone owes $50k! According to a financial aid counselor at a well-known Washington, D.C., university who my siblings chatted up last week, $50,000 to $60,000 in educational debt from undergrad is just about expected these days for her institution and schools of its caliber. There’s so much to say about that, and yet, no need to say anything at all. Because, as the College Board says, educational debt is an investment in your future, and a bachelor’s degree is all but essential these days just to be competitive (someone with a B.A. will earn $800,000 more than someone with a high school diploma over a lifetime), so young people hardly have a choice. But that doesn’t make it any less shameful.
  3. Kids use Facebook for (not annoying) good. Believe it or not, and whatever you might think of the situation in the Middle East, I found the following rather encouraging: The 14-year-old daughter of close family friends recently updated her Facebook status – which people use to say everything from “Joey is ‘eating spaghetti,'” to, “Sarah is ‘so, so, so excited to be engaged!'” – to read, “R. is ‘702 Palestinians murdered by Israel in Gaza (more than 230 children & 100 women) & 3100 injured. Donate your status.’” Now this is a little girl I’ve known since she was a baby, and whose young adulthood I’m so in denial about that I assiduously avoid her Facebook page, lest I find anything I don’t want to know. And Facebook is running out of ways to surprise me. But unlike the 101 groups for this or that cause, or messages from people actively proselytizing, this just had an earnest, honest, youthful sincerity to it that grabbed me. And  how nice to find that on Facebook.
  4. The government hates animals. New York’s Governor David A. Patterson has proposed “an immediate 55 percent cut and elimination of zoo and botanical garden funds altogether in 2010,” writes Andrew C. Revkin on the New York Times’ Dot Earth blog. All right, I get it — the state’s in trouble, and the $5 million it’ll save by slashing the zoo’s funding will no doubt go a long way in stabilizing things. Doom a hedgehog, feed an investment banker, and all that. But really, how sad. It isn’t enough that we’re destroying natural habitats all over the world, now we have to target the artificial ones we’ve created to shelter the few animals who might survive us. What difference does it make if my kids never get to see a red panda or Bengal tiger? (Never mind the American pika, a cute-as-a-button rabbit relative that’s on its way to becoming the second animal to join the endangered species list because of global warming, behind the polar bear. NatGeo can be such a downer.) Sheesh. The Wildlife Conservation Society’s pithy but pointed video response to the budget cuts is perfect. I hope someone listens.
  5. And I love my Mom, but what about the elderly? And in what could have been my own personal apocalypse, on New Year’s Eve, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. And last week, she had surgery to remove it. It’ll be a few months of recovery ahead, but the way she handled it – bouncing right back better and bossier than ever – reminded me of that Boomer resilience that some say (and I hope) we’ve inherited. But it also underscored how important excellent health care is: While watching doctors dote on my mom was a relief, I couldn’t help but think about all the people who don’t have that, not just all over the world, but right here at home. And while nine million uninsured children is a disgrace, our aging population will be larger than ever in the coming years – because of both the number of Boomers, and their lengthening life span – and adequate health care will be essential for them. Not meeting those needs would be a disgrace, too.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about, guys. What does it all mean? I don’t know yet, except that there’s a long road of recovery and rebuilding ahead for us, too. Have I fallen off the maudlin cliff, or do you feel it, too?

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