© 2020 ipub.us
We wanted so much from the world. We were dreamers, overachievers, "confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and open to change." We'd been "coddled by [our] parents and nurtured with a strong sense of entitlement." The oldest of us were fresh out of college, the youngest wrapping up high school, '09, we're so fine; class of '10, best there's been; thank heaven for the class of '11. We believed in higher education; by the time it was all said and done, we'd have more college degrees than any generation to come before us.
We were optimists, because all young adults are optimists. We voted for change we could believe in by a 2-to-1 margin in 2008. But we were optimists in spite of everything, having been forged by 9/11, the Iraq War, the Great Recession; we celebrated leaving it all behind, goodbye to all that, wearing glasses with zeroes for eye-holes. We'd only legally been allowed to drink champagne for a few years, or perhaps we weren't quite there yet. We'd already been dismissed by Boomers as "Trophy Kids" and "Generation Whine," but we knew: This — this — was going to be our decade.
We watched Friday Night Lights, Parks and Recreation, and Homeland the old fashioned way, on TV, week by week. We streamed Charlie Sheen's "Tiger Blood" meltdown on YouTube; we couldn't process him with "a normal brain." We got up early to see Prince William marry Kate, although we were far too old, by that point, for fairy tales.
We were the 99 percent. We invaded Zuccotti Park, played in drum circles, knew how to use the people's mic. We envisioned ourselves solving "problems that older generations ... failed to solve." We were witnesses to the Arab Spring; "add to that what it means to be born and live within the swarm-power of social media, and you have a potent mix." We were a force to be reckoned with, we donated to Japan and prayed for rain. We were going to change the world.
We watched Downton Abbey, Louie, Breaking Bad, New Girl. We knew malarkey when we heard it; we reelected the president, watching the returns in our dorm rooms and dingy starter apartments. We fell in love with a lonely Mars rover, we cheered for Michael Phelps, we sold out screenings of the first Avengers. We said "YOLO," and accepted uncertainty, if you can really do such a thing; 91 percent of us thought we'd stay in a job for less than three years.
We cried when we heard about Newtown.
We "binged" House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black — on our own time. We had to Google "fiscal cliff," maybe more than once. We believed black lives mattered. We fixated on grainy live feeds of the Sistine Chapel, searching for white smoke. We got a little better at cooking; we bought fancy olive oils and tried to eat less takeout. We made our bed (well, sometimes). We spoke to our parents on the phone twice a week; we noticed, for the first time, that they seemed more fragile than they were when we were children.
We wanted to know where the airplane went. We stayed up at night thinking about it; we were grown-ups, but we still couldn't understand how something like that could just disappear. The world seemed to have sharper edges than it used to. We couldn't breathe. We couldn't breathe.
We lost people; we had breakups and heartbreaks. We experienced grief so black and crushing that we didn't know how we would go on. We went on. We went on Tinder dates and Grindr dates and Bumble dates. We took people back to our apartment, while our roommate was out; we got ghosted. We came out. We transitioned. We confirmed, nationally, that love always wins.
We cried when we heard about Charleston.
We were no longer the youngest generation of voters. We canvassed. We tweeted. We "woke" up. We went, when we were instructed to Pokémon Go to the polls. We were with her, by a margin of 55 percent; we spent the night of Nov. 8, 2016 in shock. The next morning, many of us were emotional in public; we were comforted by strangers. Our generation has always been comforted by strangers.
And so, we dusted ourselves off and got back to work. We marched for women — we were old pros at protests by now. Some of us took our sons and our daughters along with us, and they looked so tiny, swaddled against the January cold. We mourned for Las Vegas, for Puerto Rico and Houston. In one voice, we said Me Too.
We made the words "pee tape" and "Daenerys" and "Fortnite" part of our vocabulary. We knew there were more reasons than avocado toast behind why we couldn't buy a house. We were the "burnout generation" now: exhausted, beat up, fatigued. It seemed like we were never not at work. We respected the hustle. We Ubered. We would joke about how we'd never be able to retire, or about hoping a comet might hit the planet and put us all out of our misery. We downloaded, got confused by, and then deleted Tik Tok.
Still, we were a little bit in awe of the next generation, the one right on our heels, the one that marched for their lives (when we didn't) and walked out of schools over climate change (when we didn't), and seemed even more determined to fix the world than we'd been when we were their age. We wondered what they still had in front of them, what the next decade would hold for those kids. We thought they looked so young.
We thought about our own decade, these pivotal past 10 years, and sometimes it made us feel older, like we'd lived a lifetime already; other times, we found, with a little shock of surprise, that we still felt like children, with our lives just beginning to open up in front of us.
Each time, shaking off the memories, we kept going. We kept going. We keep going. Because we still have so much to do.
Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.