THE NEW GENERATION
HAS WORK TO DO
My father, who wrote a satirical daily column in The Chronicle
for almost 50 years, mixed in a serious one every so often. "A New
Beginning," which appeared on October 17, 1979, was one of those, and I
remember it well. I found it in the archives, and read it again.
He wrote about the birth of his first grandchild. I wanted to
find the column because my first grandchild was born last week. I wanted to
see if his thoughts mirrored my own. I wanted to see how he handled
witnessing the miracle of birth.
I had remembered that he had been fascinated by the newborn's
feet, how his granddaughter would instinctively try to grasp his finger with
her toes, "a throwback, the anthropologists tell us, to our tree
dwelling ancestors millions of years ago."
"As I held my granddaughter in my arms," he wrote,
"and thought of all those millions of years of change to reach this
point and my own impending end some day, I also thought of her fresh
beginning, of the millions of years to come to get where we are going."
Almost 37 years later, I was holding my first grandchild. My
father, who died 17 years ago, is gone, just as he predicted. And there's no
getting around the fact that I'm next on the conveyor belt. A new generation
has arrived, and that can only mean that my generation is on the way out.
I touched the sole of my newborn granddaughter's foot. Sure
enough, she curled her toes and tried to grab my finger. Nothing had
changed, yet everything had changed. I held her tight and wondered what kind
of world she would see in her lifetime.
I have no doubt that from a technological viewpoint, her world
will evolve, just as every generation has evolved in the last two hundred
years. Flying cars, space travel, robotics, improved medicine---the advances
will be endless, if you want to call them advances.
But socially, I'm not so sure. As I cradled her in my arms and
admired the miracle of her eyes and ears and nose and 10 fingers and 10
toes, I wondered if we're going in the wrong direction. I thought about how
she curls her toes, just like every baby ever born in those millions of
years, and wondered how there could be so much racism and hate in this
We are one species. My daughter did not give birth to a turtle.
We are homo sapiens. We curl our toes. We are one. Why is that so hard to
understand for some people?
My granddaughter was born last Wednesday. UNICEF estimates
353,000 other babies were born last Wednesday. Black babies, brown babies,
Asian babies. My granddaughter happens to be a white baby. So what? They all
curl their toes.
I would love for her to grow up in a world without racism,
without hate, but that's not going to happen. There are hordes of people out
there who are convinced they have an overwhelming edge over others simply
because of the color of their skin. It's such a ridiculous notion.
My father, 37 years ago, wrote about curling toes because he
was interested in "the millions of years to come to get where we are
going." I'm sure he would have predicted that 37 years later we'd be a
lot farther along than we are.
I'm writing about curling toes because we're nowhere near where
we need to be. As I held her in my arms and looked into her still-filmy
eyes, I tried to imagine how anyone could hate her for the color of her
skin. That's something that should never, ever happen to anyone.
Maybe my granddaughter's generation will do better than mine in
making the world a more compassionate place. I have no doubt she'll do her
"So there we were after millions of years," my father
wrote, "just the two of us---I, the grandfather, approaching the end of
my era (with no great haste, mind you) and she at the very dawn of her own.
Death and life. Sadness and elation."
Now another generation is upon us. Maybe this generation will
figure it out. Maybe this generation will realize that no matter what the
color of our skin, or our religious affiliation (if any), or our economic
stature, or any of our differences---in the end we're all just a bunch of