“You’re probably too young to remember…” was a phrase that sometimes I dreaded. Other times it signaled a bit of a history lesson I would find interesting.
I’m not entirely happy with how often I find myself using that line. It’s just a natural consequence of getting older. But that’s the problem. We’re not socialized to be happy about getting older.
I’ve known people who got quite radical and angry when they heard that phrase. “It’s nothing more than an ageist attempt to disempower me for being young!” Which sometimes it can be, but most of the time it is simply a literal statement of fact: you weren’t alive when such and such happened, so you have no personal memories of the event.
I read the phrase this morning on a few news blogs because the man who played the clown host of a morning children’s show that was popular in the 60s and 70s died last night.
I don’t have the excuse of being too young to remember the glory days of his show, but I don’t remember them. It was a show produced and seen only on a Seattle channel, and when I was young enough to be in the target age, I lived far, far away. So I’m just as detached as a bunch of much younger people about this. I can understand, in the abstract, how people feel, but I may never quite get it.
He never completely retired, continuing to make public appearances, raise money for charity, and so on, showing up in his patchwork painted limosine. By random chance earlier this year I nearly attended his final public appearance. I was buying salmon at the wild salmon market at fisherman’s terminal and confused that there was a giant crowd of people, and a bunch were wearing red clown noses. Then, as I was driving home, I passed his limo going the other way.
The memories of some experiences we have sometimes carry far more emotional weight and importance to us years after the fact than we expect them to. And that can be hard to explain to another person. When we describe it, even to us, it sounds silly. So he told some jokes and acted silly on screen. And you watched it every single morning when you were supposed to be getting ready for school. And?
But we all have experiences like that. It might be a family ritual, or a thing we used to do in church, or a favorite food at a chain restaurant.
In the abstract it is no big deal. But the human heart doesn’t live in the abstract.