It's Wednesday at Harborside Flyby Coffee and Goods, where I usually write my column. But first, I must play all my outstanding Trivia Crack games.
As I play, seemingly absorbed in my game, people around me are meeting together, sipping coffee concoctions or chai, munching on cookies and biscotti, or slurping soup, as I am.
In addition to Trivia Crack, I have become addicted to the Hot and Sour Ramen, which really isn't bad for a powdered soup they make come alive by adding boiling water. It has noodles.
In addition to conversations, others are staring at screens as I am, with earbuds in, listening to their tunes. But I like the background noise, the talking, the laughter and the baristas teasing each other about bad dates or the next go-to gathering.
Usually the energy is high, because high schoolers are often gathered there with their offbeat humor, and their appreciation for geeks and "geeking out" over whatever. I have great hope for this generation. Their humor is intelligent, and they appreciate the smart kids, unlike my generation, which had complete disdain for intelligence or involvement in all things civic or community.
OK, I realize that this is not true of all Baby Boomers, but many of us tuned out and turned against "The Establishment" or "The System," because too many of our leaders, while we were still impressionable, were assassinated or became corrupt.
It's a good excuse anyway.
As one who turned off at age 15 and found sobriety from alcoholism at age 25, I see my involvement in the community as an amends to the community for everything I took — or could have taken — from it. I have coached little kids soccer, served the church in many capacities, been involved in interfaith efforts to improve the communities I have lived in, and participated in volunteer fire departments and civic groups like the Rotary and women's empowerment groups.
One of the things I love about Kodiak is that it is so easy to get involved in the community. But, not to be negative (sorry Marie from Safeway!), one of the reasons it is so easy to get involved is that fewer people are getting involved in the first place. Apparently participation is down in all the civic organizations in Kodiak. I have great respect for the committee of a recent community event that ended the event because they could not get enough volunteers to run it. Maybe after a year or two of it not being held, some people who had not previously been involved will pick up the slack.
Boomers, read this: The reason memberships are shrinking, and leadership is stretched way too thin (many of the same people are serving as leaders from too many other groups, and it's not because they want to do it all), is that the Builder Generation that came before us is retiring and dying off, and there aren't many people left who are willing to step up and lead. And yes, it is our turn, at our church or our grandchildren's school, or in that event that you love to go to every year.
I get that we Boomers went through a rough patch in history. I get that people are busier than ever (playing with all our toys? Valuing our families more than the Builders, perhaps? Or just burned out?). We are having to work longer than did our parents, if they had pensions.
We are living longer than they did, as well. A lot of Boomers are experiencing boredom and disconnection as they retire, and their bodies are still relatively healthy. Sure, there's that old "Establishment" bugaboo that we are running from. But remember all that "finding yourself" that you did? Don't you want to come back to the real world and share some of that finding? If you had become enlightened, you would know that you can't keep that stuff unless you give it away. And every volunteer will tell you that they get back way more than they give.
Perhaps some of the alienation and boredom, the lack of meaning and sense of running nowhere on the hamster wheel comes from not being involved in something beyond ourselves. Unless it is to complain about the government, the "borough," "the authorities," "them."
It's interesting that some of the loudest critics, some of the meanest critics of people in leadership positions are those who refuse to take a leadership role themselves, much less participate in a solution. And as many an active volunteer will tell you, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
It's hard to tell yet where we are going to end up with some of the next generations after us Boomers. When I was in my 30s, which seems like 100 years ago, I attended a conference on "Ministry to Generation X," which was the generation we very much wanted to recapture — er, interest in the church. Back then, anyone born after 1964 was still considered a young adult, maybe just married, but with the youth and energy we really wanted in the church. That was until after we got to know what they wanted, right? I got all on board with some great ideas, and ... well, the paying customers didn't like the changes. We aren't talking at all about Generation Y or the Millennials. It just seems like too much of a real stretch.
But the future — and my hope — seems to belong to the Gen-exers and the Millennials: this group of high schoolers who are usually here at the coffee shop very much involved in the life of their community. Maybe coffee shops will be where The Next Big Thing will be hatched, just like churches and pubs were the place where the American Revolution was brewed. Then, it was The Boston Tea Party. Next, it will be the Coffee Party, or Chai-volution, or ... "Better Latte than Never!" Ha!