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Youth’s Predicament… The Longing For Love And Meaning

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By GEORGE A. KENDALL

Living in a nursing home has had an unexpected effect on my life — putting me in more contact with young people than I have been used to since I was young myself (about a hundred years ago). I am talking about the nurse’s aides who provide the day to day “up close and personal” care for us.
Once you have lived a few months in one of these places, you get to know these young people. In many ways, I am impressed. Many are kind and compassionate, seeming to genuinely care about the people in their care, doing work most of us would find gross and disgusting (like the bedpan detail). I enjoy talking to them and listening to them, not to mention dispensing some of the sage advice that the elderly at least like to believe they have to share.
When they talk about their personal lives, however, it can be more than a little sad. Few of them are married, but almost all are living with someone they are not married to. Many have participated in several of these living arrangements, because these relationships tend not to “work out.” They don’t seem to understand that a relationship does not work itself out — it requires some work, often hard work, on the part of the people involved, and people are unlikely to work hard on a relationship where commitment is absent, specifically commitment manifesting itself in the form of some kind of public vows. We call this marriage.
When people cohabit, they are kind of playing at a relationship, playing at marriage, you might say, but without actually being married. The whole thing lacks seriousness. One guy told me that he thought of his live-in girlfriend as his wife, and often spoke of her that way. He was devastated when she casually dumped him. Apparently, she didn’t think of him as her husband.
Of course, in our society, even when people do get married, many, maybe most, are not making a true commitment, because they know divorce is always an option if it doesn’t “work out,” and somewhere in the back of their minds are likely to be counting on this as a kind of safety net even on the wedding day. It is not something unthinkable for them. The sense that you are closing (and locking) a door behind you when you embark on such a relationship is so often just not there.
So there is a lot of unhappiness in the lives of these young people. They may be enjoying sexual pleasure, yet the sense of emptiness and depression runs deep with them. Of course people want pleasure, but they want meaning even more. Instead, they drift from “relationship” to “relationship.”
Here, by the way, is one of the strange things we do with language today. A young couple asserts that they are in a “committed relationship,” but look! No wedding rings. So what does that mean? Can you have a committed relationship without commitment? Logicians would certainly have something to say about this.
So at a time in life when young people should be starting families, they are adrift, with all the suffering and aimlessness that entails. And that is the fruit of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
And it was my generation that ushered in that misbegotten revolution, though there were foreshadowings of such a development earlier in the twentieth century, with roots going back at least to the so-called Enlightenment — there was, for instance, talk among intellectuals in the 1950s about something called “free love,” but people like that were usually dismissed as crackpots and not taken seriously. (Maybe they should have been.)
Those who accepted the revolution could hardly be considered innocent due to ignorance. Most came from Christian homes, where they were taught Christian sexual morality. And yet in the space of a few years so many just walked away from all that and embraced Hugh Hefner’s version of morality. And they were guilty not only of their own sins, but of the disorder they passed on to the following generations, who, while not innocent either, had some excuse, because the sexual culture of the sixties was something they were born into, their world-taken-for-granted, not something they freely chose.
A very large number of young people today are victims, who have been denied the opportunity to form a relationship which is absolutely necessary to the foundation of the institution central to any social order — the family. Rebuilding an institution so badly compromised will be, if possible at all, far from easy.
This is, of course, a tragedy for society as a whole, because the common good requires strong families. It is also a tragedy for the individuals involved, because it means many have been in effect denied the ability to love. The French novelist Bernanos defined Hell as the state of the person who is no longer able to love. This means that many people today are experiencing Hell while still in this life, though as long as they are still among the living they need not stay there. Let us pray that they do not.
There are some reasons for hope. Many young people are not without a moral sense. They have a sense of fairness and genuinely want to do good and avoid evil, though they are deeply confused about how to go about it. And they have been brainwashed by their parents and grandparents, their schools, the media, and so on, to accept as normal some terribly abnormal things — cohabitation, contraception, abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and so on. A huge work of re-educating people to the reality of the moral order has to be done, and it has to be done by a minority of the population against overwhelming opposition from the powers that be.
Elderly people like myself, who were witnesses to the revolution and carry memories of the old order, will soon no longer be here, though while we remain here in this vale of tears there is much we can do to pass on those memories to those willing to receive them. It is certain that the rebuilding will not happen overnight. But we cannot give up hope when despair, a grave sin, is the only alternative.
There is one important reason for hope. Young people, however confused they may be, are looking for something, and grace is still a reality.
(© 2018 George A. Kendall)

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