I was listening to an old song from 1995 by Danish rock band TV-2, “Respekt” where children of the time were described (They equip themselves to fight for the last placements, they arm themselves to the teeth with rootlessness):
"De ruster sig til kamp om de sidste pladser
De væbner sig til tænderne med rodløshed."
And something struck me. I’m one of those children, as are probably most of my generation, the early millennials (and possibly all of the millennials). Is our only weapon in today’s world our rootlessness? I never felt that I was rootless until I was actually, really and factually without any roots left. And I was, and am, terrified and deeply saddened. I don’t have any grandparents, nor any parents, nor any siblings (that I have lived with and spent my childhood with), nor any childhood friends or acquaintances left, and my remaining family and friends are very limited in size. My home is not the place I grew up nor the place I lived in my youth. My friends are not the same (anyway, I hardly feel I have any left at this point). My partner is from a completely different country, not even one I’ve been to or feel connected with (although I admire and respect it, of course). My son will speak 5 languages on a regular basis, neither one of which will be a true mother tongue. And it’s not that I want to go back to a past that’s no longer there. I just thought that it’d be possible to combine things and not have to feel fragmented and torn.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a song about this feeling. The chorus goes:
"Fragments of a life, I don’t know how I can ever be whole again.
Fragments of my time, I don’t know who I can call my friend."
Now, all of this is clear every day of my life to me, I feel very alone and torn apart. But the thought that struck me at that moment was that, although I was raised differently than my peers, and even if they have their parents and siblings alive and childhood friends and so on, maybe we’re all still in this feeling of fleetingness together? Maybe it’s our only community trait and possibly we’re the first generation to be similar across cultures and nations, simply because of the exchange that has been made possible by globalization. And still, in spite of this connectedness, we feel – Alone. Abandoned. Alien. And we numb these feelings, not so much with alcohol as Generation X did, but with all these 21st century drugs, both literal and figurative, including social media.
I believe we’re a generation of transition, just like the generation who left their villages to make a new life in the city with all the consequences suffered as a result. In our case, we’re leaving behind the old norms of national states and cultural divides but we still haven’t found any framework to replace them (see my article Modern rites of passage). The uncertainty is overwhelming and the sense of a completely meaningless and wasted existence is always looming over us. But what else can we do? Just like there was no opportunities in the villages for our forefathers, at this point in history with extremism on the rise everywhere, the only way forward is towards the darkness, a tunnel from which there may or may not be an exit…
The generation that left their villages behind to start a new life in a bustling and quickly growing city, has other things in common with us, they were also alone. As a side note, this transition happened at different times for different countries which means that this generation, as opposed to millennials, didn’t coexist the same way we do today. That was the first generation to have nuclear families in stead of a whole clan and vast extended family. That being said, they might have felt alone and alien to the city but at least they might not have felt as lonely as the current generation, simply because they were still working in factories or offices where there were other people struggling just like them, which means they had a sort of community behind them. It seems contradictory that Millennials don’t have this, with all the instant messages and easy access to the whole world. But our number one common denominator, alone-ness/loneliness, is not easily shared because individualism and the belief that our troubles are unique are stronger. So, we lie on social media, we pretend that being alone is satisfying, not lonely, that post-modernism is cool, not scary, that we’re going to be fine and successful. But really, we’re not lying to the anonymous other, we’re lying to ourselves. We’re trying to be strong in the face of climate change, depleted resources, the rise of any and every kind of extremism, the fear of the future…
Speaking about this to a fellow millennial, he came up with the concept that fragments can turn into something beautiful, just like shattered glass can be a breathtaking mosaic window. But how can we know if the fragments will turn into some sort of beautiful mosaic in the end and it will all feel worth it? How do we know that it won’t look more like Guernica (Picasso) and less like a window of the Köln Cathedral? Not that Guernica isn’t an absolutely gorgeous painting but few people would like their life to look like it put into perspective. So the uncertainty creeps up on us yet again, who are we and who will we be? We feel like we’re suspended in open space, not knowing where to turn.
Then again, maybe life can be beautiful floating around in space?