The other day I went to a picnic and someone snapped photos and posted them on Facebook. As I was looking at them I was puzzled because I didn’t see myself in any. There was a clear shot of the table I sat at and all the others I had lunch with, but no me. Just my three friends and some old guy with gray hair with his back to the camera. Wait! Oh boy, the old guy was me.
It’s funny how we never see ourselves as we truly are. One of my favorite cartoons shows a small cat looking at himself in a puddle. The cat is small, but in his reflection he sees himself as a formidable lion. I think we can all relate to the kitten.
I turn 52 this December, and my, how those three decades since high school went by in a blink. I’ll get a “friend request” on Facebook, look at the face and think, “I don’t know this person,” only to see the name and realize the wrinkled mug staring at me was my friend way back when. I wonder if they think the same when they see a photo of me?
They say with age comes wisdom, but unfortunately it’s also a close companion to aches, pains and the frequent desire to start sentences with “Back in my day.” Example: back in my day kids didn’t have video games. If you wanted to play tennis you went outside and actually played tennis. We didn’t have bottled water and cell phones; you drank from the garden hose and if you wanted a friend to play you stood outside his house and yelled his name. You also didn’t need a text message from your parents telling you it was time to come home; the corner streetlights coming on at dusk told you so.
Back in the old days we didn’t have common core, but common decency was abundant. Doors were more readily held for a lady and men held their tongues and toughed it out when life wasn’t fair. We whined less back then. We didn’t feel so entitled and expected to work for everything we got. You didn’t get a trophy just because you showed up. We lost sometimes and it stung, but that’s OK because we were the better for it. That trophy the other kid walked away with was your incentive to do better next time.
The best thing that ever happened to Michael Jordan wasn’t winning an NBA championship, it was the day he got cut from his high school basketball team. He was a sophomore and the varsity coach told him he’d have to play on the JV squad; something Jordan didn’t want. He could have quit, but instead re-dedicated himself to the game and the rest, as they say, is history.
Most days I don’t feel “almost 52”. I bound from bed with the energy and promise of a teenager and for much of the day the vigor is there. Then I’ll open some mail and wonder why the type is so small or crouch down to pull a weed from the garden and feel like there’s a 50-pound sack of flour slung over my shoulders as I attempt to rise. I’ve also learned the hard way I can’t use my stomach as a garbage disposal anymore eating hot wings at midnight, unless I want to pace the hallways all night with heartburn.
Sadly, as much as you gain in wisdom over the years you give back in other ways – hair, friends, regret. Age is a greedy master who demands payment on so many things and often takes without warning or mercy.
I think the two most important things I’ve learned is to forgive the past and appreciate the moment. There’s a reason your car windshield is so much bigger than the mirrors that reveal what’s behind you. That’s where you should be looking. And this moment, right now, is precious cargo. So fleeting. When you lose someone you love you don’t think of the major milestones you shared. No, it’s coffee in the morning or sitting quietly in the yard watching the lightning bugs dance, those are the memories that tug at you.
So shake off the aches, hold fast to someone special and make merry this day, my friend. For it’s only today, today and tomorrow is promised to no one.
John Gray is weekely columnist for the Troy Record and the Saratogian newspapers and news anchor at ABC 10 and FOX 23. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org