OPINION – Not all who wander are lost: The wandering generation

Maria Ferrato Opinion Writer

“It’s astonishing to me how we can all be so okay yet so not fine all at one time,” my friend wrote to me as we discussed this past year of growth for us. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested us in a slew of ways, yet we still find ourselves able to find joy. While we’ve experienced incredible loss this year, we’ve still trekked on, learning the extent of our own resilience and preparing us for any future turbulence.

If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught me, it is that humans are incredibly resilient creatures, persisting during the most troubling of times.

This wasn’t a completely foreign concept to me. As an English major, I have explored some of the most harrowing moments of humankind’s history and discovered time and time again that humans are built to last. Despite the chaos that surrounds us, we are still somehow able to find love, joy and laughter.

My senior seminar this year was focused on Ernest Hemingway. We read “A Farewell to Arms”, “A Moveable Feast”, “The Sun Also Rises” and “Green Hills of Africa” in addition to countless short stories. While reading these WWI recounts, especially “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Sun Also Rises”, I was shocked by the characters’ ability to engage in everyday activities despite being in a pointless, violent, gruesome war.

Hemingway’s novels contain fishing journeys, bullfighting adventures, drinking escapades and, most intriguing to me, genuine love.

How did these people find love in a world fueled by hate?

Hemingway’s novels do a wonderful job encapsulating the concept that humans are still able to love, dance, sing and laugh during even the most worrisome times. These novels are reflections of the time and, in several cases, are direct reflections of Hemingway’s personal life.

Hemingway fans are perhaps doubting this optimism I argue considering Hemingway was grappling with the state of his mental health, eventually and unfortunately taking his life in 1961. Many literary critics critique the verity of the love in his depicted relationships and many more critique the heavy drinking in his novels.

Gertrude Stein, a fellow novelist and friend of Hemingway’s, called Hemingway and other authors of the post-WWI era the “Lost Generation” because people in that age group experienced gruesome realities that left them disillusioned and uninspired.  

That generation experienced the worst side of human nature and somehow still continued. While many — if not most or all — were inevitably deeply wounded (mentally and physically), the generation ultimately kept society going. Humans pushed on.

I often worry that my generation will experience a time akin to WWI.

Unfortunately, history has proven to repeat itself, and I often fear what part of history will repeat during my lifetime.

My generation is enduring incredible strife, just like all generations before us have. We are still fighting for a healthy, happy Earth and for true equity for those inhabiting it. While we learn about the cruel injustices of this world and the unfortunate state of the environment, we are still expected to perform tedious, mundane actions.

We are to learn of countless horrors but still be able to hit deadlines.

Most days during this pandemic I have been astounded to find that humans are still functioning — that we wake up and put on our silly little clothes to go to our silly little jobs to make our silly little green paper. I really don’t understand how people did it during the world wars.

It’s truly a miracle that humans are able to transcend the inevitability of death on a daily basis.

Life does not necessitate ignorance, but it does require perseverance. Lately, as knowledge about the injustices of this world spreads, the lines between those two are getting blurred.

If you want to remain a functioning human, you have to seek moments of respite in bleak circumstances. You must traverse the murky waters of the bad in pursuit of the good. COVID-19, in addition to the summer of activism, has made the waters murkier than before, but it has also shown us that humans will do what we do best: persist and endure.

A new addition to humans’ repertoire — in addition to persistence and endurance — is the attempt to improve. The summer of 2020 inspired several Americans to join in protests they hadn’t previously been involved in. It has been a rude awakening for many, but an awakening nonetheless. For the first time in a long time, it feels as though Americans may be ready to face our imperfections and work on them together.

Because of this attitude change, I would like to propose a name for our generation: the wandering generation. We have experienced incredible trauma, but we are not lost; we are simply wandering around, attempting to maintain our composure.

Maria Ferrato is an opinion writer. Contact her at [email protected]