Age is a funny thing, isn't it?
That worked well enough for an opening sentence to an August 2008 column as I fretted about turning 29. Today my odometer rolls over to 40, and although we haven’t updated my mugshot that runs every Tuesday, the simplest way to dig up a copy of that piece was to have someone bring it up on microfilm and snap a cellphone picture.
Technology isn’t the only thing that’s changed since I explored finishing my 20s.
“My kids are young and healthy,” I wrote then. “My parents and in-laws are south of 60 and still seem invincible to me. My body — save for a retreating metabolism and vision that’s been getting worse since I was 6 — has yet to turn on me. I am largely done spending my summer weekends driving all over the Midwest to see my friends get married, and I haven’t ever been to a funeral for someone close to my own age.”
My kids remain young and healthy, but there’s twice as many. One is learning to drive. My metabolism isn’t any better, although my eyes aren’t much worse. I experienced both a herniated disc and a torn meniscus. There were more weddings than funerals, but enough of both to make me ponder how we head to the same places for our brightest joys and darkest sadnesses and if we’re lucky the echoes from each never fully fade.
We’ve bought and sold two houses and a handful of cars. We said goodbye to the cats I adopted the summer after college and now have a different cat and, almost inexplicably, a delightfully rambunctious rescue puppy who is going to keep the house noisy when the youngest son heads off to kindergarten next week. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.
Our boys still have all four grandparents, but no adult I know seems invincible. Our closet friends now are those who will sit quietly and share with us about loss and pain, or trying to figure out what’s best for our kids and how to set good examples. We’ve seen divorce and struggles with infertility and adoption. We’ve wept as loved ones lost children and rejoiced as they overcame unthinkable challenges.
I say we so much because although my wife and kids don’t share this byline, everything I am is wrapped up in being a husband and father. Obviously I know how to introduce myself for work, but it’s much more common to go by “Mr. Holland” or “Charlie’s dad” or “Are you the homeowner? We’d like to talk to you about roof replacement.”
In my relative childishness I predicted the future, writing: “My own body will weaken some day and I won’t be able to do with ease the things I take for granted, and I will wonder where the time went and why I didn’t spend more of it building tree forts for my sons or teaching them to keep their body in front of ground balls and make strong, accurate throws to first base.”
I don’t wonder where the time went, I was awake and changing diapers for nearly all of it. I don’t build tree forts because kids can fall down and my emergency room deductible is significant. As for teaching baseball, well, I’ve umpired one season, coached two, appointed myself team photographer and lost track of the number of requests I’ve granted for backyard drills.
Somewhere along the way I must’ve taken the advice I gave myself at 29 “to focus on today and be happy with the life I have.” By consciously trying to listen more to people with different experiences, I’ve learned there are countless ways to be fulfilled, to have meaningful relationships and contribute positively to society. Or to just plow through it all with no regard for anything outside the self. To each their own, but I’m out here trying to make a difference. Often failing, but trying.
I also hoped to eventually “look back at 29-year-old me and think, ‘What was I so worried about?’ This, today, is the perfect age.”
Now I know — I’d already learned we’re not promised tomorrow, let alone truly old age. Forty isn’t perfect, but perfection’s not the point.
Now, as then, I hope “as I grow older I’ll continue to appreciate each new day with my loved ones as a gift to be treasured. Failing that, I just hope to be faster than the cars heading toward me as I walk through an intersection.”
SCOTT T. HOLLAND is a former associate editor of The Times who continues to contribute his column plus help with editing and writing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/salmagundi or twitter.com/sth749.