Letter to the editor: We rob children of precious time
When I look out over the rolling blue hills and distant skyline it is hard to feel anything is amiss in Vermont. Yet Gov. Shumlin was one of the first to admit that this small state has a serious opiate crisis. Something is amiss. And Vermont has company in 49 sister states. Here is my take on what may be contributing factors.
Our children have been fleeced. We have stolen all their presents, and along with this burglary the fun they could have had playing, exploring, dreaming with them, even squandering them, tiring of them, then throwing them away.
I am speaking of moments. Time. Our kids have no presents left. We have squeezed them out in favor of the future. The present is programmed to benefit what comes next. Resumés. We organize activities that will boost their chances of acceptance letters at the best preschools, kindergartens, elementary-middle and prep schools. For what? For acceptance at the finest colleges, so that they can graduate and land excellent jobs that will overwork and underpay them. When summer comes there is no break in the rushing current. The present is filled with soccer camp, music school, junior varsity practice, remedial classes or seminars in how to ace the SATs. There is little time for relationships with the older generation. Grandparents hope in vain for a visit. Toy chests sit silent.
Life is a race today and not a human one. Hidden beneath the rapids is something dark: the fear of slipping, of being left behind, of failure. Life has become a blue or red team, and of course teamwork is great, but the majority of the time the team is focused upon honing skill to beat the competition. This phenomenon is not new, but it is gaining volume and velocity. I see it as a pandemic in our Western world. It has created serious imbalance instituting a rush forward … to what? How can premonitions of “demise” not haunt today’s youth, leaving them playing recklessly with little tastes of it?
The robbery of our present blinds us to the major fact of our existence: we are born, we l-i-v-e, we die. When the focus is always on the future, l-i-v-i-n-g, which takes place only in the present, is sacrificed to dying. I believe this is part of what is at the core of drug addiction. Time is one of our most precious, spendable commodities. When we program it out of our children’s day we communicate stinginess, scarcity, despair.
Children today can’t be blamed for the fact they rely on their smart phones to relate to each other. There is no time in the programming for visits to favorite friends or relatives. Maybe a weekend. That is not enough to form the bond that opens up the present. I keep hearing of retired couples who moved to Vermont in hopes the children will come visit. It doesn’t happen. They sell.
And what about the kids in rural towns, those who feel the current flows elsewhere, leaving them back-eddied, stagnating? Or the ones in New York or Los Angeles who are stuck in their own little ponds of bewildered adults depressed that they “can’t keep up.” In a society that has stolen the present, for those feeling they have no hope of a future, it is easy to see where the mindset leads. Anesthesia; drugs.
There can be fixes of a healthy kind. Program in unprogrammed time! Intergenerational relationships depend upon it. They are as important as acceptance on the junior varsity team. We need to get out the great cartoonist’s book, “Osborn on Leisure.” Robert Osborn knew it all, drew it all. Living needs to be modeled, savored, loved, and feared at times so our kids can discover inner fortitude. That is why they need relationships, role models. These will sustain them in solitude when they are alone with their own present, opening it slowly, finding it holds the key to the pursuit, not abandonment, of their destiny.
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