The last of my grandparents died recently, and as I grieved for her I realised that something profound is happening to us as her generation passes away. The thoughts I had began to coalesce into my first poem for nearly a decade.
In recent years, I had minuted nearly 200 harrowing meetings where many agencies were struggling together to safeguard vulnerable older adults. I think it’s hard for us, not knowing how it could have been different, comparing the world that their generation gave to us, to the one we’ve given back to them in old age. And it’s hard to know what any of us could really do to make things any easier. I wanted to write something to express the gratitude we owe to the passing generation – and an apology for them, for the gap between their values and ours.
Apology for the passing generation
They saw us through those stalwart years,
global wars, genocides and fears.
Where they stood firm, us young would wilt,
but they endured, to spare us guilt.
Risky births: another age,
not our multicultural maze,
but back-to-backs, outdoor latrines,
and cars cramped and stiff as coffins;
without mobiles, washing machines,
internet, texts and flu vaccines,
exotic goods from free markets,
all-year fruits and supermarkets.
Nuclear blitz threatening all –
but on their bedrock, we stood tall.
We got to shag, depress, divorce,
where they withstood with moral force.
We stared them down, took them over,
threw babies out with bathwater,
cast values off, never content,
rarely waiting their kind consent.
From secure faiths came modern daze –
certainties lost, thickening haze.
Our big bangs often passed them by,
whims and fancies in our minds’ eye.
Later fates were often unkind,
sapping liberty, health and mind –
reduced, remorseless irony,
our age’s silent tragedy.
Dignity and peace came hard-earned,
and then were often overturned.
Our busy lives became neglect –
too hard to look, and lose respect.
Now their journey’s almost over;
we’re left alone with each other.
Throughout it all, they saw us through.
And sometimes, they saw through us all, too.
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