“If I Had One Wish …”

There’s a line I’ve always loved in Bruce Springsteen’s song “Long Time Comin’:”

“If I had one wish in this godforsaken world, kids / it’d be that your mistakes would be your own; / yeah, that your sins would be your own.”

I was recently out for drinks with a good friend and her parents, and she raised some pretty sharp disagreements with the way her parents have built and managed their investments over the years. And, to her great credit, she’s already making different decisions — with which her parents disagree in their way.

I’ve had versions of this conversation with my own parents more times than I can count. And every time I do, this Springsteen line runs through my head: after all, life would be so much easier if we didn’t inherit any messes.

But of course that’s not the way of this godforsaken world. At best, each generation makes the best decisions they can with the information, opportunities, and values they have — and the following generations do the same (often in opposition to their apparently benighted parents).

Outright avarice is one thing, and of course it’s a very real thing. But there are a lot of people out there who genuinely are trying to do what’s best by themselves and their children — who then turn and point out just how little they saw and how wrong they were.

This type of conflict comes up all the time. Resent and recrimination are always tempting, but they don’t really help anything. The past might not be past, but it certainly cannot be changed. The only thing that can be is the future: like the narrator of Springsteen’s lyrics, we can wish life were otherwise, know we’re doomed to repeat the pattern ourselves — and yet bring new life into the world, promising ourselves we “ain’t gonna f**k it up this time.”