Everything sucks for you right now. You’re not wrong or being young or dramatic. Honestly, it’s sucked for you all for a while. I’m your big sister by just a couple of years. I write this not as a mentor or a know-it-all, just someone who was born with enough time to observe a world before all of this. This isn’t me giving you advice. This is me giving you a hug, not to comfort you but to say you aren’t alone. I don’t understand what it’s like to grow up in the way that you have.
I recall a house without a desktop computer inside, before either of my parents had cellphones. Far way folks connected in landlines and handwritten letters. On a September morning in the third grade, I watched the twin towers dissolve into smoke and terror. I remembered those towers. My aunt lived in Greenwich Village, and the train from DC to New York took my mom, my brother and I there for visits. Eight is too young to understand terrorism or global politics. What that signified to me is that every giant crumbles, that even the sturdiest of things can be taken from us.
Gen Z, you were born after the theft. All the airports you’ve ever walked in demanded your shoes off. A couple years head start gave me just enough time to taste a before, an innocence, a prerisk period. You are the first generation born into hyper security and social media– where you are never out of the world’s reach. It’s destabilizing, hyper-sensational, overstimulating, and sometimes lonelier.
You never really had the same privacy, an domestic enclosure away from your social circle. Now, the COVID-19 preventative measures are saving your lives while taking away your proms and graduations and birthday parties and traditional schooling. That sucks. Living is great– very much worth the hype. That doesn’t detract from the sour disappointment of not getting the same things your big brothers and sisters and moms and dads had. Grief douses your present. That matters. Hold vigil for what you thought was going to happen. It’s ok to mourn.
I can’t say it will get better. Often by necessity, people do better and become better whether or not those conditions change. Right now it feels isolating and oppressive and overwhelming. Attempting to navigate your adolescence/ young adulthood in addition to a global health pandemic is something no other living generation has had to do. Despite different circumstances, a common thread among humanity is suffering. Those struggles feel like yours alone, but they aren’t.
Read James Baldwin, Cheryl Strayed, Anne Frank, and what you find is that your struggle is also what ties you to every other person. Baldwin said something like that. While humans cause plenty of problems, we are also often the solution. Our troubles don’t make us unique. Rather, they tie us closer to other people. I don’t know how you feel right now, Gen Z, but you need people. There’s this culture of cool where it’s chic to act like you don’t give and shit and don’t need other people. You do need people. You will always need people.
In the absence of what you thought would come, good things will find you. I know this because even in the brutal-est of years, joy creeps in. And that doesn’t mean the era is defined by joy. It just means you can’t postpone happiness until everything is ok or normal. The new normal rarely introduces herself on her way through the door.
I’m sorry you’re going through this. I’m sorry your prom got taken away and graduation isn’t going to be the mortarboard affair it’s always been. In the good days ahead of you, remember that your angst is valid and this is bigger than you. This is about your grandparents and hospitals and government. This is about understanding how our conduct can jeopardize others. You don’t have to feel good about that. You have every right to be angry. Be angry and let that fuel you to act and give and use the sedentary days to apply yourself to your passions and self soothing. See this moment as an opportunity to connect where you want to scream. I am not asking you not to be upset. Frankly, I think you should be. I am challenging you to do that and also be constructive. Don’t be constructive for the sake of productivity or accomplishments. Be it because the universes of potential inside you demand to be realized.
I know it sounds condescending but close your eyes and take three deep breaths– oxygen plunging all the way to your diaphragm. Everything feels like an operating room right now. It won’t always. And when it doesn’t, hug your friends really tight and kiss their cheeks. Revel in the closeness at concerns– the palpable charge of so many bodies in close proximity. Flights are uncomfortable and sometimes long, but you will take them again and see this big wide world. I’m not telling you to be grateful. I’m challenging you to stay away, stay honest, and aware. You’re going to lose things in life. You will be dealt more than one crappy hand. And then, you draw an ace. You play the hell out of the hand you have. The game keeps going, and it gets really really good.
I love you and I’m here for you.
Your Big Sister