In 2014 I attended a 100th birthday party for Sam Zelman, the distinguished journalist who worked in both print and radio before producing TV news for CBS and becoming founding executive producer of CNN. He retired here, gracing our town for nearly 29 years with his presence and humor.
Everybody should attend as many 100-year birthday parties as possible (including their own!) Inspiring events!
Sam’s party had a special feature. His wife, Sally Davenport, asked his friends to share their thoughts and perspectives about the century of Sam.
Cleaning out my Word files I found a copy of what I had written. I want to share the following with my readers for a reason.
“What a ride we have had, Sam! What glorious ‘Ups’ and devastating ‘Downs.’
My ride started in the Great Depression. My father lost his job and my parents had to move in with my mother’s family. My parents looked at the bright side, ‘Things can’t get any worse, let’s have a baby.’
I remember the depression, World War II, the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. 9-11.
We have seen much political turmoil and upheaval, enormous strides in medicine coupled with egregious lack of coverage for many, decline in our once glorious public education system, significant negative changes in the family, outrageous refusal to face the impact of our energy consumption on the planet, our polarized, dysfunctional government, burgeoning inequality, and the corporate takeover of America.
We have become a nation of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations that all have lobbyists. The customer is always right, right? Naah…people no longer count except as consumers who increase profits for the stockholders and the wealth of those at the top.
What keeps me sane?
What keeps all of us sane in a world of 24-hour news that you helped bring about? First of all, gasp, I turn off the TV when Breaking News becomes No Longer News. Second, I reflect on the 60s, that transformative decade. On Jan.1, 1960 I never dreamed that in the next 10 years I would witness the passage of Civil Rights legislation, doubling of the number of women accepted to law and medical school, and most important the start of the slow but continuing change in how people feel toward those different from themselves. We are far from Utopia (and the 60s was a decade with many horrific events as well as social progress) but many Americans changed their ways of thinking about these issues. Who knows, maybe another transformative decade is around the corner.
Let me focus on a favorite topic of mine, the advancement of women. In my life span I have seen marked progress. My mother was born 12 years before women won the right to vote. The medical school I went to did not admit any women until 1917, 13 years before I was born, and only 34 years before I started my medical education. In 1951 the year I entered medical school fewer than 400 women in the whole country did. Now they make up nearly half of all med students (10, 474 or 49.8 percent of women entered med school in 2016).
I was privileged to watch the upward trajectory of women achieving recognition of their abilities and being admitted to many fields previously closed to them. I have watched women take their places and succeed. Advancement to top level positions is improving but not yet there. Plus the problem of who takes care of the children, though fathers ARE helping, is not yet solved.
Finally I have learned to worship that glorious product of evolution: the human brain. This is the most complicated entity in the universe. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could use our brains to arrive at beautiful solutions not horrible ones. If we could stop making decisions based on our differences, but on the inescapable fact that we are one people on a fragile planet and need to work together.
Let’s hope we choose the right path, before we end up with no choice at all like Woody Allen in a piece about his commencement address. ‘More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.’ Let us all strive toward beautiful solutions for all peoples while we still can.”
What is my advice for those of us who have been around a while? I plan to embellish the above by adding specific memories of the momentous events I lived through. When memory fails I Google: “events in 19__” to glance through what happened that year. I will merely share the highlights, not write a memoir. This has already become a fun summer project!
Look back on your own life span, reflect on the progress and problems you have seen. Write it all down and also talk to your children and grandchildren. Remind them they are the ones who can make the beautiful solutions happen.