I came across a photograph of my high school graduation this week and was struck realizing that two of my friends in the picture and I are cancer survivors and the other two males in the picture, in line behind me, are both already dead. It has me reflecting on the capriciousness of life. There was no way we could have known, on that warm breezy evening in 1977, what triumphs and tragedies lay before us. To be 17–as I was in the picture–is to be invincible. We didn’t yet know about mortgages and divorce and loss and cancer…and old age. We were shiny and new, like the 1977 Corvette I dreamed of — not a scratch or a ding yet. The problems we thought we had – an Algebra test, finding a prom date, money for a stereo system, didn’t quite prepare us for how to support our families during unemployment, the death of a spouse, or a child. In 1977 the world seemed to be filled with only promise and possibilities; 43 years later, our lives are littered with broken dreams and relationships, creaky knees, and the foreboding sense of old age. Many, or most, of the parents crowded into the auditorium that evening to watch our procession are now gone.
To be sure, the intervening years have also been filled with the beautiful moments and memories we dreamed of: standing nervously at the altar; holding that newborn baby, being handed the keys to our first house; the clutch of a toddler’s hand in ours; running breathlessly alongside the two-wheeler as the child learned to ride; the guiding and sustaining warmth of friendships, particularly the ones that transcend decades and distance.
We were the generation that came of age during Watergate and Vietnam; we were products of a world that was shattered on September 11th; we were the last generation to remember life before technology. We watched the advent of the personal computer, the internet, and the phenomenon of starting to be able to carry both around in our pockets. We’ve inherited a world we could never have imagined in 1977; The Jetsons did a crappy job of preparing us for this. It’s been a wondrous age to be a part of. And yet, across 2019, we all turned 60. And with it, came the unshakable realization that most of our journey now lies behind us, and that one of these days, the world is going to continue revolving without us.
18th century English poet, Robert Southey observed: “Live as long as you may, the first twenty years are the longest half of life. They appear so while they are passing; they seem to have been so when we look back at them; and they take up more room in our memory than all the years that succeed them.” 20th century songstress, Barbra Streisand asked, “If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we? Could we?”
I’m currently watching a Netflix series on time travel and it has me wondering, what would I say to 17-year-old Tim standing there in his cap and gown on the sidewalk in New Wilmington in the summer of ’77? And perhaps more significantly, what would he say to me? What would he think of my grey hair and my surgery-scarred chest? What would he think of who I’ve become? Besides “Buy Apple stock,” what should I tell him to help his journey through this life? Have I even actually gotten anything significant figured out since that night?
I’m not even sure what the question is, or was, but somehow the answer for me (as Curly explained to Billy Crystal in “City Slickers” “The secret to life is just one thing…just one thing. Find that one thing, and nothing else matters.”) is my three precious kids. They are both my one thing, and my “chance to do it all again.” I was hardly the perfect father, and yet the pride and joy that I take in my adult children, and my deep love for them, is what will sustain me through the rest of the days of my life, and ultimately, they are what have given meaning and joy to my journey, from 1977 to here. “Don’t know much, but I know I love you.”
“It’s OK, Tim…it’s going to be a good life.”