the embittered generation

IN ESTONIAN, the word is kurnatud. Embittered. The word came to me last night when I went to fetch a drunk friend. Why are we like this? I wondered. Even in our prime of youth, no one remarked on the optimism or forward-thinking zest of the youth of the day. Instead there was a rash of self-destructive tendencies. Suicides. Drug overdoses. They blamed it on the parents, the heavy metal, the gangster rap. But those were just manifestations of this curmudgeonly beast. When I look down at people 10 years younger, I see a resilience that among my peers is not there. When I look into the eyes of people 20 years younger, I see beauty and hopefulness. But we never had these things. Instead we have been kurnatud. Embittered. Again, why? I tried to explain it to a friend like this: maybe we just saw too much at an early age. Maybe we just burned out too young. The late 1980s and early 1990s were a dizzying era of change. Countries collapsed. New ones sprung up. It became almost boring — “Oh, Czechoslovakia is two countries now? So what?” “Oh, they cracked down on those Tienanmen Square protesters? Sad, but it happens.” Space shuttles were blowing up, nuclear reactors were melting down. Yeltsin was standing on a tank and then sending tanks against the parliament. Normal. Normaalne.  This theory doesn’t hold up though when you think of people 20 years older than us who saw presidents assassinated, missile crises, and mass protests. Who saw the tanks roll into Prague. So why are we so embittered, when we’ve arguably had it quite good? I just don’t know. There was even a song that came out in 1996 by a forgotten alternative rock group called Cracker, “I Hate My Generation.” The thing is, I understood it then and I understand it now. Recently, while enjoying coffee with a friend here who is two years older than me — she is 42, I am 40 — I said something like, “Oh, to be young and hopeful again.” To this, she responded in dry way, “But were we ever really young and hopeful?” Were we ever?

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