.My parents lives, and the world view they developed and shared with many of their generation, were guided by a kind of critical optimism. They taught me to question and to speak out: over the years, among all the books that populated the shelves in my father's study, but on that one particular shelf where the books destined to our reading – the daughters' books – sat, there was one title I have not forgotten. A book called The Right to be Different. I think they also taught me to be courageous and rather stubborn about what I wanted to do or be or believed in. And they taught me to ask a lot of questions about the world and never to accept any authority blindly (which of course, from my young woman's point of view, eventually included their own...)
For any number of reasons, the critical optimism with which they engaged the world seems harder to sustain today. No, it is not yet the “end of the world” and yes, the legacy of their generation, and that of the iconoclastic, restless and creative “sixties” and those that have followed in their footsteps have made a difference. Not as much as my parents - my mother Gertrude, my father Norman, would have wished. But the issues that are on the agenda today bear the mark of their dreams and their struggles. Now, we wonder just what it is we can pass on to our own children, our nieces and nephews, our students or the young people who look to us – overtly, explicitly or not – for some clues on how to proceed ahead, for some bits of our wisdom. Today we are more suspicious ofready made “truths” and have, as philosopher Jane Flax once noted, permanently left the “age of innocence”behind us. We know that no positive outcomes are guaranteed – for ourselves, our communities, the world – but that does not justify stepping back, doing “nothing” The choice we have is, as my parents understood and passed on to us – certainly the most precious of gifts – is as poet Carolyn Forché once wrote: “It is either the beginning or the end / of the world, and the choice is ourselves / or nothing." Or, at a perhaps humbler level, there where our own daily lives unfold ( I would say) : The only way to find meaning in life is to actively engage in making it.
[At: Memorial for Norman Adelman
Children's Outing Association