My children are card-carrying members of Generation X, a group that has hung onto its desire for authentic living longer than most. We Baby Boomers had the 60s, with our Vietnam protests and flower child experiences and such, but it didn’t take long to turn into raw capitalists. After all, it was our generation that presided over the astronomical increase in CEO salaries, as the one percent got richer and everyone else started shopping at Wal-Mart.
Richard Rohr suggests that when we approach the second half of our lives, our hearts are drawn back toward the authenticity that enticed us during our college years. But I went to Bible College. Instead of following my heart to become a television newscaster, I devoted my college years to denying myself and taking up the cross. Unfortunately I had these pesky doubts. If I was going to be in the army of Jesus, I needed some proof. Night after night I placed empty Pepsi bottles outside my dorm window and prayed for God to fill them before morning. “Since I’m going to work for you, you’d better prove yourself,” I fervently demanded. But alas, morning came and the bottles were always empty. If I wanted more Pepsi, I was going to have to buy it like everyone else.
I missed the drive for authenticity the first time around. I was too busy being the obedient fundamentalist. Actually, you don’t have to be a fundamentalist to miss authenticity the first time around. During our formative years most of us trade authenticity for approval. Over the years, however, the desire for authenticity never goes away. It may go down into the basement and hide in the corner behind the furnace. It may wait a long time, but it never goes away.
There is a reason people avoid the pursuit of authenticity. It is not good for one’s retirement account, let alone reputation. There is a great line in the Wizard of Oz. “Hush, Dorothy whispered the tiger. You’ll ruin my reputation if you are not more discreet. It isn’t what we are, but what folks think we are, that counts in this world.” And so it is.
When you decide to live authentically, you not only change your own life, you bring a whole parcel of people with you. A number are kicking and screaming. Your authentic pursuit is their nightmare. I know of a man in Colorado whose wife decided to join the Peace Corps. They are both in their early 60s. He is a therapist who loves his practice and also loves his wife. Her search for a fulfilled life is his problem. He loves the Colorado mountains. He does not want to enter the Peace Corps. But he is closing down his practice and moving to Nicaragua. Maybe searching for authenticity would be better done before you get married.
But we do not know enough about authenticity when we are young and unmarried. We are unformed, amorphous. Through family and work and community and tribe we begin to discover both who we are and who we are not. Like learning to walk, this discovery process is always filled with scrapes and bruises. It is no wonder we are well into the second half of life before self-nurturing insights finally stream into our consciousness. Unfortunately, by then we are tired, very tired. It takes a lot of energy to keep up appearances. So we sometimes ignore those prompts, preferring instead the quiet lull of boredom and routine. After all, we are free creatures; we each get to decide who we will be.
I have decided to opt for authenticity.