“You are such a cute couple!”
The waitress said that to us. My wife smiled back politely. I was devastated.
Being called a “cute couple” when you are on the way to the prom is one thing. Being called a “cute couple” when you have been married for decades means you are seen as a beguiling antique with no practical purpose in the modern world.
I explained this to my wife. She looked at me then slowly shook her head in exasperation. No sympathy there.
The waitress was what we used to call a chatterbox. Not satisfied with taking our order and keeping the water glasses filled, she gave us her life story.
She explained that she and her fiancé were both in college, both heading toward their degrees in just a few years. Unlike her cousin.
Her cousin was apparently one of those. The perfect kid with the perfect smile, the perfect personality, the perfect grades. Our waitress had doubtless been compared negatively to her since they were in diapers.
“But you know what,” she told us as she plopped the salads down in front of us, “Little Missy has got herself pregnant. Nineteen, boyfriend on the run, Grandma preparing for a second career in baby care. I’m looking pretty good now!”
My wife smiled. I asked for a little extra Italian dressing.
I hope things work out for our waitress. I hope things work out for her cousin. Most of all, I hope things work out for a little guy being born to a single mom. He will be one of the 40 percent of babies born outside of marriage. The odds of childhood poverty — and remaining poor in adulthood — are not in his favor.
Writing in a recent issue of the New York Times, columnist David Brooks lamented studies finding that young people have lost the drive to do something better with their lives. Citing the fact that they are less mobile, less willing to take risks to improve themselves than any previous generations of Americans, he blames a “new fatalism” that has permeated the young. Brooks sees all this as a lack of faith in capitalism, a lack of faith in American exceptionalism, a lack of faith in old-fashioned, nose-to-the-grindstone work and its rewards.
I think it is more a lack of faith. Period.
Brooks touches on this ever-so-slightly when he notes that American young people more and more today reflect the attitude of European young people toward religious faith. It is not that they dismiss faith. They can’t dismiss what they had never received.
The secular drumbeat to which we have raised children for a couple of decades now has created a culture of secular drones. They have no way of seeing the world through the eyes of faith because they were never given that opportunity.
Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote that it is the responsibility of every generation to try to understand the purpose and meaning of life beyond mere existence. The secular culture is built to sell, not to seek. It has no answers to the essentials.
When we talk — and we are talking a lot — about the “new evangelization,” we have to remember it begins with the children. Children without faith not only become adults without faith, but adults who will pass that faithlessness on to their children.
With faith, people believe they can be better people and that their world can be better for all. As Chesterton wrote, faith makes certain we will never be slaves to conventional wisdom.
Young people — all of us — have to know that faith can move mountains, that “nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37).
Faith is not a museum piece. Like a cute couple.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.