Many months ago, my boss, Jon Meacham, came into the morning meeting with a project in mind. He asked us to launch a cover story on the legacy of divorce in America. Divorce has been one of the more potent social forces in our postwar history, one that's rippled through our culture in ways that are both important and not always fully appreciated. Jon didn't know precisely how the story would turn out, but, as he likes to say, he knew there was a pony in there somewhere. So he asked us to find a compelling storytelling device that would help illuminate the larger story. We gave the assignment to David J. Jefferson, who found the perfect vehicle. David decided to return to his alma mater, Ulysses S. Grant High School in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, to find out how his class ('82) had been affected by divorce. The individual stories are mostly wrenching and occasionally heartwarming. But they all shed light on a generation that was reared on divorce and learned to cope with it. Here's how David describes returning to Grant High: "When I decided to interview my high-school classmates about their experiences of divorce, the first thing I thought of was how different our family lives had been from the ones we saw on TV in the '70s—happy broods like 'The Brady Bunch,' whose real-life house is in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley, where we grew up. The Valley was dotted with the dream factories that created such make-believe visions of suburbia. But outside the studio walls, life wasn't so sitcom-perfect.
"I had mixed feelings about reconnecting with my high-school classmates. My image of my high-school self had been that of the nerd, and I had no interest in stirring up those feelings of not being one of the 'cool kids.' Would the class president and Miss Congeniality think I was a dork if I called them and asked for an interview? But once I dove into the reporting, the fears dissipated. As my classmates told me about the shame and isolation many of them had felt growing up as children of divorce, I realized just how little each of us had known about one another back when we were in high school. As kids, most of us had kept our family secrets from one another. Now, speaking to my classmates as adults, I realized just how similar we all were. We were just people traveling though life with our respective baggage."
What David also found reporting our cover story, edited by Julia Baird, was that despite the complications and collateral damage, divorce did not have to be a life sentence of misery. And, for the most part, his classmates did not blame their parents for whatever turmoil they were experiencing in their lives now. They had simply done the best they could at the time. The Divorce Generation had grown up.
At every magazine or newspaper where I've ever worked, spirited debate, occasionally a little too spirited, spills into the corridors. One of the things we like to do is reflect that kind of intellectual combat in our pages and on Newsweek.com. This week we're fortunate to have two such clashes of ideas. Jonathan Alter and Fareed Zakaria square off on whether there should be an Olympic boycott. And on the occasion of Pope Benedict's arrival in the United States this week, NEWSWEEK contributor and theologian George Weigel and Senior Editor Lisa Miller debate the relevance of his visit for a Catholic community here that can be assertive about its independence from Rome. Maybe these pieces will provide ammo for your own water-cooler arguments. Or, who knows, maybe they'll change your mind about these important topics.