Dateline: Yesterday. We are at the Hospital.
Technically, we are on the "Clinic" side of the building; the area where we spend most of our time here is comprised of exam rooms, x-ray, the cast room, Orthotics and prosthetics, and physical therapy next door. Medical records is over here. Counseling, next to Family & Patient Services. And, of course, the waiting rooms.
The whole place is bustling; there is a cheerful hum to the whole building. Kids are everywhere, laughing, playing, running, watching Disney movies on the big TV in the corner. Mostly moms today, although the occasional father or grandfather is present. The Shriners walk the waiting rooms, the hallways, and the common room like giant friendly bears - giving out hugs to children who run headlong into their open arms. Each of the Shriners has on that trademark fez; the letters sparkle, and the long silky black tassel sways as the owner walks. Most of the Shriners here are older, retired; almost all of them are grandfathers now, several are great-grandfathers. They sit next to me, and chat; we talk about Twinkle, about The Wrench, about their wives, their kids, their grandbabies. And, we talk about how badly this fraternity, this loyal, dedicated group of men needs new recruits.
They don't understand - why young men aren't joining, and why the men who have joined don't come to the meetings, don't march in the parades, don't drive the vans to the Hospitals. They are from an era where everyone was infused with A Greater Purpose. These are the men of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation". And so, they don't understand. They lament the fact that their sons and grandsons can't be bothered to take the necessary steps to become a Mason, and then a Shriner. They ponder the notion that unless something changes, the Shriners will be nearly non-existent in a decade or two. They worry that there will be no one to raise money to keep these Hospitals going - let alone anyone to drive the children there and back again.
They want to know what they can do to convince these men, these good men that they know are out there, to join them.
I don't have any easy answers for them. They are curious about my "group", my generation. They want to know what how to make this fraternity more appealing to men of my age. They believe that they are missing something; that someone, somewhere has a magic key that will unlock the answer.
But it is difficult for them to understand. These are the men of my father's time; their word is their bond. They grew up trusting their government, their church, and their neighbors. By contrast, my peers and I are children of the revolution. We were born just as JFK took office, and our mothers were at home all day to do the vacuuming, while our fathers went to work in cars that sported huge fins, massive amounts of chrome, and good old American Iron under the hood. It was our older brothers and sisters, the ones who became hippies and flower children and who marched and protested - they were the ones that taught us not to trust. Not to believe in our government. Not to believe anything that anyone over the age of 35 said. Now that we have passed that mark ourselves, we seem to find it hard to place our faith too directly, too deeply.
And so we grew up without a moral compass. Without direction, without meaning, without really being able to commit to much of anything. We are the cowering bunch of ninnies in the corner - trapped between June Cleaver and the bra-burners. We wanted our world to be like "Father Knows Best", and instead got the riots in Watts. We are the generation that fell through the cracks; neither Ozzie and Harriet, nor Sonny and Cher. Not even Ozzy and Sharon.
We were babies and toddlers when Camelot died; we were kids and pre-teens when Nixon resigned. We watched, not fully comprehending as Watergate and Vietnam unfolded on our parents console television sets. We left home for college just as disco became the "in" thing, and as we swayed under the multi-colored pulsing lights, we wondered just what it meant to be a "real" grownup.
It's not that we didn't have good role models. They just got lost in all the noise of the '60s, and we couldn't find them.
But these "lifelong" commitments to a group, a cause, a brotherhood - they seem to be out of reach for so many of us. It isn't that we don't' want to. We want the stability, we crave the deep friendships. But we grew up believing that we weren't supposed to do this - we were supposed to rail against everything our parent's stood for.
No one told us that we should stop, and start acting like adults.
And, if we don't act like adults, how can we ever expect our own children to grow up and take responsibility for anything?
And therein lies the root of the problem. My generation is so busy avoiding adulthood that we have failed to insure a future for our children, in many ways. Because we still want to be children ourselves, we let the responsibility for the things we take for granted fall to others. As our parents generation ages, the number of those willing to volunteer, to give of themselves, to act selflessly seems to be dwindling at an alarming rate.
Answers? I wish I had them for these men who have devoted themselves to this incredible philanthropy. I can only hope and pray that the men of my generation wake up and "get it" before it's too late. Before the Hospitals have to close because no one wants to march in the parades, and the vans come in off of the roads, because there are no Shriners left to drive them. Twinks will be long gone from the Hospital system by the time that happens, but I worry about the thousands of children not yet born.
Sometimes it's not just a Generation "Gap". Sometimes it's a wide, yawning chasm.