I did something strange today. When someone stopped to let me a make a left turn, which is, in Boston driving a criterion for a miracle, I acknowledged her kindness with a gesture. I always do a thank you when people are nice to me. It’s a jungle out there, in case you haven’t noticed.
Every other day for at least 30 years, I have waved; out the window, out the sunroof, in front of my rearview mirror. Because I want to reinforce their kindness. I want to let them know that I know I am not entitled to make a left turn in traffic, and that, despite that existential truth, I appreciate their thoughtfulness.
But I didn’t wave; I gave the peace sign. And as soon as I did, I felt slightly foolish. After all, who did I think I was, anyway? An aging hippie in a VW microvan? What does that gesture even mean in 2018?
I remember what it meant in the 70s. The peace sign was a way of signaling good intentions and good vibes. The two-fingered V peace sign signaled a kind of hopefulness, a deep desire that we all ‘give peace a chance.’
We believed in that promise of peace. We thought that the world would eventually see what we saw so clearly; that the Vietnam war was a disastrous misadventure, a guaranteed horror show. Watching Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary, that point was made, over and over and over again.
We of the peace sign generation were right. But were our demonstrations, protests, and general activism instrumental in ending the war? Apparently, the jury is still out.
We peace sign people are now between 50-70. And I think it’s fair to say that the hope we experienced in our youth has been replaced by cynicism. All the big dreams we dreamed about peace and racial equality and feminism have been replaced by nightmares of #metoo and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and saber rattling in Washington.
Maybe David Hogg and Emma Gonzales, survivors of Parkland and true student leaders, will be able to take their outrage and their moral imperative and get right what we failed to do. Maybe they will budge the forces of the status quo that want what they want despite the damage and disaster they cause.
I’m not giving up. That’s not going to happen. It’s just that it gets so tiresome trying to push that boulder up the mountainside. As Sheryl Crow sang, “No one said it would be easy/But no one said it’d be this hard.” Am I expecting too much? Am I naïve and unrealistic? Probably.
Elie Wiesel once said that you have to do something in the face of evil, even if it is something insignificant. Writing a letter, signing a petition, calling a politician, and yes, participating in a demonstration may not change much. But at the very least, when someone asks, “What did you do?”, you can answer that you tried to do something.
Perhaps flashing the peace sign was my way of reaching into the nostalgic past, telegraphing my deepest intentions to a bewildered motorist. Maybe I was reminding myself that there is still so much work ahead, that this new generation can’t do it alone – and neither can we.