Coarseness of Our World

Jun 11, 2012

Local commentator Celia Brewer will commemorate the 112th birthday of her father on June 30th.

Brewer is a writer who lives in Mayfield. She wishes we all lived in a kinder, gentler world.

In the past year or so, the last known survivors of WWI have died. All three were born in 1901. All three lived to be over 110 years old. Imagine that!

What must these veterans have thought of all the changes they saw? They were toddlers when Orville Wright lifted off at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and they lived to see man walk on the moon and, more recently, the mapping of the human genome.

I have known two people born in the year 1900- my father Theodore Brewer and his first cousin Helen Brewer. Cousin Helen, a retied schoolteacher, lived will into her 101st year. She still read two daily newspapers- which prompted her to ask me one day, "Celia, what is the internet?" I did my best to explain it to her, a woman who taught English to hundreds of students without so much as a cell phone or laptop.

Unlike Helen, my father died in 1954, as I finished first grade. He had been a merchant sea captain, traveling all over the world. Television was in its infancy when he died, so when NPR announced the death of another WWI veteran, I did the math. This was a man born just months after my father, a man who had witnessed the changes in western culture for over a century. What would my father think if he were miraculously to return to life- other than marvel at his own reincarnation?

From what other have told me, my father was the type of person who "never met a stranger." He enjoyed life. I'm not sure, however, that he would enjoy a lot of what goes on today. These are the things I think would vex him most:

The speed at which we drive; the general pace of life; the notion of multi-tasking. We need only to think back to January, when a cargo vessel rammed the Eggner's Ferry Bridge, to realize the ramifications of not paying attention to important details, such as shipping channels.

My father would lament the loss of time people once spent on front porches or in lawn chairs, in live conversation. He wouldn't want a big-screen TV or an iPod, only the company of other human beings.

My father would certainly be dismayed at the number of people walking around staring at tiny gadgets, looking not ahead at the wide world, but down into their own palms. My father's palm was probably never a source of fascination for him, unless it was in the hands of a fortune teller in Singapore or Ceylon.

My father would be perplexed by people's growing impatience- both with their gadgets and with each other. He had been a quick running back at Mayfield High School and at UK, but I'm equally sure he could pause and enjoy a sunset over a ship's bow. My father never hear Simon and Garfunkel sing

"Slow down,
You move too fast,
You've got to make the morning last."

But he would have agreed with them.

Finally, I think one of my father's major complaints with our world would be its increasing coarseness. "When did boys start wearing their jeans below their underwear- in public?" I can hear him ask. "What is road rage?" "Are they really allowed to cuss like sailors in songs now?" and "Whatever happened to common courtesy, to respecting your elders?"

My father has now been dead longer than he was alive. I marvel at how far we have come in the decades since his death. We have advanced scientifically and materially, it is true. But has the entire voyage been worth it? I know what my father's answer would be.