It’s no big deal. It’s a minor pain in the ass that I forget about sometime in May and remember in early spring annually. The older I get, the less invincible I am.
I’m changing jobs, and as exciting as it is, I’m taking on a massive new challenge. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m thinking about it, and the tightness in my chest feels a natural psychosomatic reaction as well. Though I know it isn’t. It’s merely my body deciding not to work like it once did. Same way the knees did when I tried to run the Brooklyn half 10 or more years ago. I made it one mile before hobbling to a train and turning to low impact ellipticals in the gym. The way my lithe and supple and strong body turned to a big and broad and strong body before turning to a big and unresponsive mass. Thankfully, I’m told the heart keeps getting stronger even if it’s harder and harder to make what I see in the mirror reflect what I still think I am in my brain.
Getting older is hard for many reasons. The physical reasons are a lot, to be sure, and I’ve only just begun that journey. Being where I am now, mid-career, early family and years from financial security is a constant struggle. The same one so many travel with me.
But there’s also the dawning realizations that an active mind, one at rest and given a few minutes to contemplate can’t help but notice. For me it can happen in the car or at work or watching my kids in the back yard as they bounce from one thing to the next, bound by no laws of energy I’ve come to think of as universal since being bound by them years ago.
It’s all gonna end and it’s gonna happen soon.
I love my kids beyond all reason. It’s the only way I know how to do it at this point. I understand that there are some terrible situations out there where children aren’t afforded that type of love and it shatters me when I hear of bad things, scary things happening to them. Things I could watch in movies or read about in the news years ago — about terrible things happening to young children — are no longer things I can ignore. I feel it now viscerally. It kills me now in a way it never could have before. It’s empathy for strangers and it’s hard to have at times, but it’s proof to me of some sort of reason for all this. My mind intellectualizes and thinks that reason is survival, we are here and our point is to survive. Even if that’s so, for me that contains within it what others find in God.
I’m a slightly older dad, but in a life so short as this one, even slightly older has ramifications. Perhaps nostalgia just overtakes you at this age. I don’t know. What I know is that for me, the overwhelming rush to nostalgia and the amplifying emotional response to it is something that came around the same time I had kids.
In a real way, they’ve been my greatest teachers about what life is all about. I’m living in a museum at this point. Our home is awash in the memories that will be those I sprint to as the ‘time of my life.’ This is the golden passage that will live longest in my mind, this time when we are a small, highly interdependent family whose only plans, only ones we can even imagine, revolve around all of us. There will come a time when that isn’t so, which is sad to think about.
All the stuff to come actually has some sadness in it. For me at least. Because what’s next after our family is our slow walk away. We aren’t going to live forever. Even those of you firmly in belief that this is not it, that there is more after, surely even you must share some of the melancholy I can have when it hits me that what comes next isn’t this. This amazing life all opened up to me, when my kids want to hug me and read with me and kiss me and tell me they love me.
For me it’s good to remember that I’m going to die. It’s a positive reminder that what we don’t take and hold and cherish will be gone. Nostalgia is my guide as I look longingly back at the life I’ve lead to here and all that life yet to happen, yet to be stored in memory. We curate this museum in our minds, Karen and I. We arrange and rearrange the memories because we simply love to hold them. In doing so, I’ve come to learn the value of my young memories.
In those memories of my youth the world is colored like 70’s and 80’s quality Kodak film and there are faded edges. My mother is there in her Jean bandana and my dad in t-shirt and Lee’s and we’re eating cereal from little boxes at picnic tables at Hamlin Beach, about fifteen miles from home. They had six kids, and it was how we took some vacations. We loved them.
Or we’re at Hershey Park and loving the rides and smelling chocolate in the air. Or we’re all crammed into any of a series of station wagons driving down the highway on our way to adventures. I’m sitting in the back-facing bench seat, crouched so my back is where my butt should be, so I can dangle my bare feet out the rear window, dangling in the Kodachromatic sun as the wind sweeps over the lot of us from all the open windows, always open in the summer, a thing we barely do anymore.
I have to visit there to keep my mom Mommy and to see my dad as the strapping man much younger than I am now, managing what I now am able to see was a circus of nonstop work that I lived in and couldn’t possibly conceive of then. I have to go back there to keep the edges from fading in any further than they already have.
These are the glory times of my life, just like these times are now, and for the rest of time I’ll return there, here, because I don’t want to go.
Life can only be lived forward, and as far as I can tell, it can only be lived once, which is its only flaw. I used to think nostalgia was something silly people did who were afraid of life, but I was dead wrong. It’s what lucky people do to remember all that was so graciously and gloriously bestowed on them.
This post was originally published on Developing Dad.