At some point growing up I thought that all the “old” people were so different from me. Actually, I thought just about everyone in Sanger and the Central Valley was different from me, but looking across generations it seemed most obvious. I think the first hint I had that there were people like me (whatever that means) from the past were Hugh and Dianne in Davis. But it didn’t really get through. Caltech wasn’t any better – the inter-generational divide (student to teacher mostly) was too wide to really see the faculty as people. Nevermind the unpleasant schooling experience and all its baggage.
It was only when I got to Santa Cruz and met Bill, and Jane, and Bob, and Hiram that I really started feeling like there were people I could relate to that had been born before me, and that I wasn’t necessarily doomed to be transformed into something unlike myself as I got older. Now it seems so silly. I can be connected to the past through other people that were there, who had eyes like mine. What was the Haight like in the sixties Sally? Do you remember when Milk was elected? Someday I can be connected to the future through people who will live there, in the ways that I would have had I been there too. I should seek these people out and let them know. With books you can even find them further away. The ocean of ink on paper isn’t all the same. Its content isn’t set by date. Aristotle and Democritus are not the same. Descartes and Popper. Carl Sagan and Joseph Campbell. There are people back there that I might have gotten along with, and some of them wrote. There are others I would have loathed, just like I can’t stand Rush Limbaugh today. The bits I leave behind might find another mind someday. I don’t know who We are, if we’re anyone at all, but it feels like a kind of continuity I didn’t have before.
The artificial segmentation of our society into generations is no good. We aren’t so different from them. En masse maybe, on average, but not any more than we’re different from our own “generation”. There are tangled threads that reach backward, and they’re worth finding. I think they might have been more obvious once upon a time, when the generations blurred together, or things changed more slowly. Don’t let the shifting context confuse you. Find your past and future friends and see these other times and worlds through them.