Crossing the Generation Gap

A brief encounter between strangers reveals the generation gap


Life Issues

On my usual walk around the neighborhood park I saw two young guys sitting and chatting on the grass. It was mid-day, sun shining, the first warm day we’ve had in a while. At night I would have shied away, but I headed straight for them. As I passed by, they said hello in an inviting, friendly way. None of us wore face masks, so I stood on the sidewalk about six feet from them.

They seemed in their late teens. One had transparent, dime-sized earrings in his earlobes, a couple of nose rings, and a crew cut. The other had curly brown hair jutting out from under a nondescript cap, but no adornments.

It was Thursday and I asked, “Is high school not meeting in class?”

“My younger brother says classes are still online, but the sports field is open to football practice.”

“So that’s why I saw fifty kids in their red uniforms when I drove by earlier,” I said.

They seemed open to talking further, so I asked about their career paths.

“Oh, we’re into music. I write songs and sing, and made a couple of CDs,” said the one with earrings. The other kid nodded, saying he plays guitar and works odd jobs to support himself. Sometimes they write and play songs together.

“The music world is a hard coconut to crack,” I said, to which they both nodded. Figuring they were beyond high school age, I asked, “How old are you two, anyway?”

“I’m 23, and you’re, what, Justin, 22?” the one said to the other.

“Sorry, but even sheriffs and firemen look like kids to me. So, you both work?”

“Well, sort of. No pressure now to find a job with free helicopter money. I go to community college for music classes,” said the nose-ring guy.

“I work sometimes at Amazon in shipping, operating the conveyors,” said Justin.

“I got Justin’s name, but what’s yours?” I asked.

“My name is Darwin.”

“So Darwin, what do you think is happening to this crazy world, where up is down, right is left, in is out, and transgender males are competing with female athletes?”

“It’s getting weird, but, I mean, it’s cool, guys turning into gals,” Justin interjected.

“My grandparents are really upset over same-sex marriages, abortions, and euthanasia, because they were raised Catholic,” Darwin said.

“But you’re okay with all that?” I wondered, since they represent the future.

“Yeah, I know you older folks are angry and upset. But it’s reality now. It’s advanced technology doing its thing. Nothing we can do but run with it,” Justin shrugged.

I paused a moment, then said, “I have a 96-year-old aunt, the last of my parents’ generation. She has seen transportation improve from bi-wing single prop airplanes to 747 jets, from streetcar trolleys to 200 mph levitation trains, from hand-cranked wall phones to mobile smartphones. All those rapid technological advances in her lifetime have increased man’s standard of living more than the last 10,000 years. My aunt can send me emails. She’s even written a historical novel about our Italian ancestry.”

“Yeah, I think it’s great she could adapt to all those changes,” Justin said.

“My grandparents won’t touch a computer, so I do it for them,” Darwin said.

“But do you suppose all those rapid changes might be climaxing in the social turmoil lately between the rich and the poor, with the clashes between old conservatives and young liberals who want “cancel culture” and to topple historical statues?” I suddenly felt like a professor of social psychology for a class of two.

“That makes sense. Older folks can’t handle rapid change as well as us youth. They’re in strong denial and push back. What do you think, Justin?” Darwin asked.

“Our human species is evolving and transcending its natural roles. We once couldn’t fly but now we can land on the moon. Genetic engineers may be designing a unisex super race. Transgenders are into exploring that. Rejuvenation drugs would make marriage and designer babies passé. I see same-sex marriage as a dead end issue and no big deal. Our generation doesn’t have your moral hang-ups over aborting defective embryos and euthanizing the aged,” Justin answered.

“It is what it is. Nothing we can do about it if we wanted to. We all have to adapt as best we can. My Catholic grandparents are upset, and I can understand that. But the old moral traditions, like ye old airplanes and phones, no longer apply,” Darwin said calmly.

“You speak with your folks about this?”

“My father tries to talk with me, but not my grandparents,” Darwin said.

“I didn’t have the chance you two have. One of my grandfathers died in a 30-story elevator fall and the other spoke only Italian. I’d bet yours are frustrated they can’t bridge the generation gap. See if you can spend more time speaking with them.”

The two young men nodded at each other, as if agreeing.

“Do either of you believe in God?”

Justin shook his head. “Nah, that’s all myth and fairytale, like Santa Claus.”

Darwin, who was raised Catholic, said, “I do. In fact, I think that God provides us creatures with all these powerful new technologies so our species can survive. If we still used horse and plow, our civilization couldn’t feed, clothe, and shelter seven billion people.”

“Good point, Darwin. Technology isn’t the problem…we human creatures are. But it is a double-edged sword that can sustain or devastate the human race. It’s all up to us.

“You fellas ever read Huxley’s Brave New World, predicting all this?”

They shook their heads.

“Most high schools make it mandatory reading. Read the novel or watch the film by that title. Everything that’s happening today, including genetically engineered test-tube babies, Aldous Huxley predicted in 1932, when my aunt was only six years old.”

“Really? Wow! Yeah.” Darwin had whipped out his cell phone and was scrolling for information. Justin leaned over to read it, too.

I silently wished them well and walked away, unnoticed. A brief encounter between strangers revealed the generation gap. I smiled, imagining their comments after I had vanished: Who was that ancient gray-beard? Is he a minister or what? Nah, just some lonely old guy.

Our exchange had me remembering a verse in Scripture: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation; your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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