William Wordsworth -
A Poet! He Hath Put
His Heart to School (1842)
Ordinarily, when we refer to the 'good old days', each of us speaks from our own perspective, but the '60s were different. At one time or another, every American alive in that magical era was sincerely thrilled to be here and to be witnessing the events of the moment. In the landscape of American history, the '60s and early '70s were a meadow of fragrant wildflowers.
No matter what your political, religious or social views were, there was a flower you could pick in the form of a cause or movement. You could choose a crusade and be assured that an enthusiastic mob of like minded activists was already at work flying the colors of that revolution or at least waiting in the wings for a leader with the charisma to carry their standard.
And once you stepped into the meadow and picked your flower, you carried it or wore it proudly for as long as it remained fragrant.
Unfortunately, the scent of the bloom was often overpowered by that of the fertilizer which nourished it.
The meadow was endless.
You could embrace peace, war, free love, hallucinogenic mind expansion, the Bill of Rights or Eastern Religions.
You could support Animal Rights, Women's Rights, Children's Rights, Civil Rights or Student's Rights.
If you harbored a burning desire to get 'really involved' you could join an aggressive movement. There were certainly enough of them to go around.
Some required that you belong to a particular ethnic group while others demanded only commitment - either to immediate change or to the prevention thereof.
There were the Symbionese Liberation Army, The Jewish Defense League, The Black Liberation Army, The White Panthers, the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, Young Americans for Freedom, Youth International Party, Weatherman I, or later on, Weatherman II, the Gray Panthers and Pink Panthers.
There was of course, the inevitable revolutionary rhetoric:
Catchy mottos such as Peaceful Coexistence, Non-violent Resistance, Question Authority, Fight the Establishment, Down with the Pigs, Up with People, Ban the Bomb, Stop the War, Hell No! We Won't Go, All men are Pigs, Kids are People Too, Give Peace a Chance, Kill a Commie for Christ, Free Huey Newton, Make Love not War, Peace Sucks, War Sucks and Kill 'em All - Let God Sort 'em Out, could be found on bumper stickers, T-shirts and amidst the graffiti on every public building.
There was a flower for everyone in the meadow and it seemed each of us fancied him or herself a horticulturist.
Most of the flowers growing wild in that turbulent period between 1963 and 1975 were annuals, blossoming each year and remaining in bloom for about ten months. I'm sure it's just coincidence that they usually sprouted with the beginning of the school year and went to seed only after the colleges closed for summer vacation.
In retrospect, most of us recall our own activities of that period without regret.
Some of us have changed our views or at least our degree of commitment to them. Many of us have forgotten how many flowers we picked in our search for 'the answer.' And as for that elusive answer, well, few can even remember what the question was.
However, the real prize winning blooms from our meadow were the values, attitudes and blind faiths we developed under the influence of the times.
Those were the blossoms we took with us and cultivated.
Those were the cuttings which held our attention as we nourished them until roots appeared. We planted them in the rock gardens of our lives and they grew and flourished, sometimes cross-pollenating with others, often trampled by circumstance.
Occasionally they withered from lack of nourishment or were washed out in floods of emotion. Through the years though, the roots remained strong and they survived. Mutated perhaps, a bit bent or deformed possibly, they're still there and as lasting and memory provoking as a corsage or boutineer preserved between the pages of a book.
Without exception, each of us who walked in the meadow, either consciously or subconsciously picked at least one flower.
We sniffed it, we appraised it and then we either embraced it or put it away. But we still remember its scent and the beauty it held for us in that special moment.
We fondly recall different elements of our own personal degree of involvement with the issues of the times. We remember the people and events of historic note which have become reference points and touchstones in a confused effort to chronicle our own existence.
We remember Martin Luther King Jr., the Kennedy brothers - Jack and Bobby, the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the war in Vietnam.
Some of us remember graduating from college or 'Boot Camp' or basic training. All of us remember how we felt about our flowers.
At the moment we picked them, they were the single most important things in our lives.
Like school, teachers, parents and childhood experiences, they helped to shape us and mold us into what we are.
The meadow itself is gone now, as surely as if it had been paved over for a Park 'n Ride lot, but the blooms it nurtured seem to revive themselves each time we hear that special song on the oldies station.
The mental 8mm home movies of high school proms, college football games and humiliating, amateurish romantic escapades, replay themselves on the silver screens of our minds whenever we see a '57 Chevy or drive past the mini-mall where the old hangout used to stand.
As we grow older, we may forget birthdays and anniversaries, phone numbers and stock quotes, movie stars and the names of some of our relatives.
But we'll never forget our years in the Meadow.