I hate the Newark Airport. Well, I kind of hate all airports. Airports are places designed, I am convinced, to remind me of my obsolescence.
We stop for breakfast at a restaurant on the way to our gate. I hesitate. The last time I ate in this restaurant, I left in tears because of what I saw as the dehumanization of society. There aren’t many options for better eating. We go in and sit down. After getting some help submitting our breakfast requests on the IPad, we face each other across the table. But all I can see of Rosemary is the top of her head. The IPad on which we place our orders flashes ads, opportunities for reading different papers, watching trailers for movies, playing games, and ordering more food. It is too distracting for me, and I try to shut it off, but all I can get is a screen that shows my own eyes staring back at me. I peer around the screen to see Rosemary. “What did you order?” I ask, since I can not see her plate.
We finish breakfast and head down the concourse to Gate 90. I see a big sign that reads,
WE SEE ALPHA IN THE PRIME TIME OF URBANIZATION
“What does that even mean?” I ask Rosemary.
“Is it something about the prime lending rate and being an alpha dog?” she posits.
I stop to read further.
60 to 70 million people each year are moving to cities over the next three decades.
Well, I get that. I have been listening to podcasts on the implications of this movement. It does alarm me, especially since our political system is based on a rural population.
At PGIM, we see opportunities for institutional and retail investors in the greatest population shift in history.
The subscript tells me that PGIM is a branch of what I know of as Prudential. Maybe they did this on purpose–posted a sign that would make me stop and take time to figure out. I wonder if our daughter, Shannon, who has spent many years in corporate America, would understand this sign without stopping to think about it. I am unsettled, disturbed by how much work I have to put into understanding things that I want to be able to grasp on the go. Of course, I am not the intended audience for this billboard. Those who posted the sign don’t really care if I understand it or not. I am reminded of my mother, in her later years, commenting on how invisible she felt much of the time.
I am also reminded of this summer in Maine when Polly and Dan, friends my age, came to visit. They asked Shannon, our daughter, about her work as Senior Innovation Architect at Cisco. She described the CHILL labs (Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Labs) she manages for Fortune 500 companies and a seminar she recently attended. Her professional world has its own jargon, but I am often a second or two behind when I listen to her, because I have to translate, to think about many of the terms which slip off her tongue: Intrapreneurial, transformational technology solutions, ideation, prototyping, market entry. These are words which I know, but they aren’t second nature to me. They are not words I use every day.
Then the two teenagers, our grandson, Galileo, and his friend, Leif, came down from the attic, where they have been hiding out, developing a program that combines the Internet speeds of I-phone and Wi-Fi connections. I forget what one would do with this, but it is useful. Polly and Dan ask intelligent questions about the paid internships Galileo and Leif were engaged in over the summer. Leif was programming for a company that produces drones to inspect telephone towers and the like. Galileo was working for an advertising company to improve search results on two music and video websites, using web crawlers. Are you still with me? Talk about our brave new world!
By the time I get on the airplane, I am rather out of sorts. I feel like one of those oldsters who complains about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for medical advances that make it possible for Rosemary to get good treatment for cancer, that provide me relief from my RA. I am not a Luddite. I am fairly technologically literate. The last years of my career were primarily offering online services to organizations. I spend a good part of every day in front of the computer. I e-mail and text. I use GPS. Alexa and Siri are my helpmates. I set up and manage my blog site. I do most of my shopping online.
Still, I often feel that I am living in a world that is not mine. I can maneuver in it, but it all takes such work. If I long for the past, it is to be again in a world that is familiar, where I don’t have to think about things. People wonder why older people slow down. I think it is just because we have to stop and consider each word, each movement, each thought – to place them in a context that is not ours. It is the feeling of living outside the mainstream. It is not about liking or disliking the mainstream (although there is some of that, especially in a society so un-synched with my personal values), but of being out of step with it.
In a way, this is part of what privilege is – being able to assume that what I think and want is shared by those around me. Any of us who have lived outside of privilege in any way get this. It is like before I came out as someone who loved a woman, when I had to stop and remember to change pronouns when discussing my relationship. It just takes longer to translate everything. Being old can feel the same way. Yes, I can do it, but it takes longer, more work.
I sink back in my extra-legroom seat and take out the paperback book that I borrowed from Susan to bring on the plane. Before we left, our friend Diane was kind enough to explain to me her use of digital reading and borrowing books online from the library. All the other women in my book group read their books on kindle or iPads. It is probably only a matter of time before I succumb, but, now, I flip through the pages of the paperback, smell the musty pages, and begin reading. It is so delightful to be reading, to be escaping, to be living in a familiar world, that I sigh and reread the first page three times, savoring each word.
This morning, finally at the end of the long flight and sleeping at my in-laws’ house in Hawaii, I awaken at what would be nine o’clock back in New York. I pick up my I-phone and see that my friend Elon Green has published a new piece in The New Yorker on Mavis Staples, singer and civil rights activist. In Elon’s interview, Mavis Staples’ explains that she is a supporter of Black Lives Matter, but also that she believes that all lives matter – no matter how much the world tries to make it not so. She says, these words [Black Lives Matter] are “a statement of black people’s humanity. It made [people] think that’s all we care about – black. But I care about all lives. Everybody, to me, is the same.”
And that line reminds me that my life matters. It matters in the face of Alpha Prime and all that would obliterate my familiar world. I have no intention of proclaiming that difficulties in my life are anywhere near on the same plane as Black Lives Matter, but I thank Mavis and Elon for reminding me that my life matters too.
My life is not determined by whatever I see in Newark Airport, nor by the gap between our daughter’s or our grandson’s everyday life and my own. It can be a challenge not to be overpowered by a society that doesn’t place enough value on people, or one that is moving in a technological way that is not the one I was brought up in, but it is possible to maintain my power even then, if I remember to stay centered in my own life. It’s my party and I’ll cry if want to, laugh if I want to, be if I want to. This Land is my Land too.
If I stay centered on my own life and values, the alpha prime gets smaller. This blog is a place where I reflect on my interactions with the world and, through it, stay connected to myself. Writing affirms my place in the world and enables me to author my life. It helps me to remember that I’m Brynna!