By Enrique Tessieri
What kind of Christmases will we be celebrating in the mid-2030s? Like past generations, will we set aside our worries, demographic and environmental problems and allow the Christmas spirit to overtake us for a moment?
Twenty years from now I will form part of the ever-growing army of pensioners in this country and the developed world. Where will I retire? Will I move to southern Spain, which is starting to look like the Sahara Desert? Will I stay in Finland, where global warming is changing weather patterns for good?
One of the questions I’d like to know about the future is if we’ll become wiser. Or will our actions and reason for being twenty years on be guided by the same vices: greed, indifference, wars and the usual excuses for doing nothing.
During ”normal” demographic times, when pensioners made up a small part of the total population in the twentieth century, most over-64-year-olds played a passive role in society. Turning into a revolutionary or social activist was a no-no.
Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology created quite a commotion when it was published in 1915. The 200 free-verse epitaphs of his book spoke openly about sensitive issues like sex, moral decay and hypocrisy.
One of the poems he called ”Unknown” reveals perfectly the paradox between youth and old age. Masters writes:
In youth my wings were strong and tireless
But I did not know the mountains.
In age I knew the mountains
But my weary wings could not follow my vision
–Genius is wisdom and youth.
Does this remarkable poem tell us why humankind is still incapable of breaking the vicious cycle of greed, war, and apathy?
Is there hope that such a circle could be redrawn in the future? Could new medical breakthroughs in gerontology help resolve the problem? Could new medicines help us at age 80 to ”fly over mountains” with enough strength and wisdom?
If we resolved such a paradox, how to balance our youth with our old age, humankind would be capable of many things. It could help us for instance not to commit the same mistakes of past generations that have kept us buried in our human squalor.
Staying on the topic of pensioners, Helsingin Sanomat columnist Riva Liisa Snellman took a peek at 2035 as well. By then, one in three Finns will be over 65 years old, with nearly a million people who are over 75.
Will such a large number of pensioners cause an adverse reaction in our society? Semi Purhonen, a generation researcher, told Snellman that she doesn’t believe so since family ties play a crucial role in our society. No generation will ever declare war on its grandparents, according to her.
The Helsingin Sanomat columnist offers some light-hearted views of the future. She believes that we’ll all carry chip locators to alert relatives if we forget where we are supposed to go at a certain time. Loss of memory will not be an impairment since we’ll be assisted by ”memory assistants.” They will help us with all our memory problems.
We’ll all wear bracelets in the future and they will form a standard part of our attire. ”The bracelet can distinguish sleep from a sudden illness, and it also enables the wearer to ask for help,” writes Snellman.
We’ll have so-called loneliness centers for the elderly located in countries like Germany and the United States.
Christmas Eve falls on a Monday in 2035, which means we’ll be enjoying an extra long weekend then.
I hope on that day I’ll see many grandchildren spending Christmas with us around a large table peppered with friendly chit-chat, giggles andlaughs iced with the cake of anticipation.
Since children of the future will learn how to ask serious questions, my grandchildren will ask me about how life was like when I was young. I will tell them that in the last century we had snow, which will be a rare commodity due to global warming.
I will tell them as well about the financial hiccups that Europe suffered due to countries like Greece.
”Can you imagine that a long time ago, well not that long ago,” I’d tell them as they’d hold their breathes, ”we had groups that hated other people like us because we were different from them.”
”But we won the battle,” I’d continue. ”Thanks to our war against ignorance, all types of Multicultural Finns can live today in peace in this country and be at the same time proud of their ethnic backgrounds.”
A Multicultural Finn is any person who considers himself a Finn but comes from a multicultural background. ”You are all good examples,” I’d say. ”Your great grandparents and your relatives before them were from many countries and knew the ways of many cultures. I have lived in many places during my lifetime.”
They’d ask about wars and how they ended for good on Earth.
I’d return to Master’s poem about the mountains, but recite it to them differently:
When our countries were young they waged war, turned their backs on the suffering of the world
They did not know the mountains of humanity.
After we nearly destroyed our environment and almost killed each other off we finally learned to know those mountains
But our planet and humanity were in too bad shape to fly over those mountains
–Genius is living in a world without greed and wars.
How did wars end? How did we learn to live in peace with each other? another one asked.
People got so fed up with their governments and armies that one day a huge war was declared war but nobody showed up.
The column was published in Finland Bridge issue 6/2011