Sometimes we posit a scenario in which we were both young when we met, and we imagine that we would have had kids, if only because I would have wanted them. And we would have raised them with all our best efforts and unflagging commitment. But we also would have become different people, made different choices, and had a different relationship with each other; more distant and harried, more responsible, more grown-up. Instead, we have this life, and we are these people. We get to go to bed every night together, alone, and wake up together, alone. Our shared passions thrill and satisfy us, and our abundant freedoms—to daydream; to cook exactly the food we want when we want it; to drink wine and watch a movie without worrying about who’s not yet asleep upstairs; to pick up and go anywhere we want, anytime; to do our work uninterrupted; to shape our own days to our own liking; and to stay connected to each other without feeling fractured—are not things we’d choose to give up for anyone, ever.
To be ridiculously sweeping: baby boomers and their offspring have shifted emphasis from the communal to the individual, from the future to the present, from virtue to personal satisfaction. Increasingly secular, we pledge allegiance to lowercase gods of our private devising. We are concerned with leading less a good life than the good life. In contrast to our predecessors, we seldom ask ourselves whether we serve a greater social purpose; we are more likely to ask ourselves if we are happy. We shun self-sacrifice and duty as the soft spots of suckers. We give little thought to the perpetuation of lineage, culture or nation; we take our heritage for granted. We are ahistorical. We measure the value of our lives within the brackets of our own births and deaths, and we’re not especially bothered by what happens once we’re dead. As we age—oh, so reluctantly!—we are apt to look back on our pasts and question not did I serve family, God and country, but did I ever get to Cuba, or run a marathon? Did I take up landscape painting? Was I fat? We will assess the success of our lives in accordance not with whether they were righteous, but with whether they were interesting and fun. If that package sounds like one big moral step backward, the Be Here Now mentality that has converted from sixties catchphrase to entrenched gestalt has its upsides. There has to be some value in living for today, since at any given time today is all you’ve got. We justly cherish characters capable of living “in the moment.”…We admire go-getters determined to pack their lives with as much various experience as time and money provide, who never stop learning, engaging, and savoring what every day offers—in contrast to the dour killjoys who are bitter and begrudging in the ceaseless fulfillment of obligation. For the role of humble server, helpmate, and facilitator no longer to constitute the sole model of womanhood surely represents progress for which I am personally grateful. Furthermore, prosperity may naturally lead any well-off citizenry to the final frontier: the self, whose borders are as narrow or infinite as we make them. Yet the biggest social casualty of Be Here Now is children, who have converted from requirement to option, like heated seats for your car. In deciding what in times past never used to be a choice, we don’t consider the importance of raising another generation of our own people, however we might choose to define them. The question is whether kids will make us happy.
In 1913, when Anthony Patch was twenty-five, two years were already gone since irony, the Holy Ghost of this later day, had, theoretically at least, descended upon him. Irony was the final polish of the shoe, the ultimate dab of the clothes-brush, a sort of intellectual «There!» yet at the brink of this story he has as yet gone no further than the conscious stage. As you first see him he wonders frequently whether he is not without honor and slightly mad, a shameful and obscene thinness glistening on the surface of the world like oil on a clean pond, these occasions being varied, of course, with those in which he thinks himself rather an exceptional young man, thoroughly sophisticated, well adjusted to his environment, and somewhat more significant than any one else he knows.