Friday, August 05, 2005


Existential Friday: Lingering traces of youth

fam reunion2
Generic family reunion photo, summer 2005.

I attended B's family reunion last weekend, located in Red State City within My Blue State. Sample local bumper sticker: "The Second Amendment protects all the rest of them." It turned out to be incredibly fun. I played the role of wedding photographer and snapped off 300 pictures with my digital camera. It was a great way to enjoy the party -- getting up in people's faces while being an affectionate family guy at the same time.

If you take a snapshot of a family gathering like this (one, let alone 300), there will of course be an array of people from infants and toddlers to elderly grand- and great-grand parents. In the past, in family gatherings, I've always viewed myself as the star of my own bio pic, with my relatives as the supporting cast. (And when the family reunion is my in-laws, they're mostly extras and bit-players.) And my own time of life -- however old I was -- was always at the center of the universe. Everyone of a different age was just a sort of reference point for me: people who were too young to do or know the things I could do or know, or people who were older and on the downward arc of their lives, were there just so I could feel right about myself and say "boy I'm glad I'm not them."

This reunion was different. I felt as if I'd crossed a kind of threshold since the last one of these three years ago. I've been seeing some of the same people for about 13 years now. People who I met as toddlers or pre-schoolers have grown into sullen arm-folding teens who give monosyllabic answers or have blossomed into articulate and charming college kids.

What really hit me is the people who have reached the heart of middle age. When I first met them, they were in early middle age, parents of younger kids who still looked good, were physically vigorous, up for adventure. The threshold I've crossed is the knowledge that I'm on a path that leads in only one direction -- to that heart of middle age, and through it, to the point where I'm an elderly person and just an extra in the bio pic of some much younger relative. (Which one?)

Lingering traces of youth? Your host, Oscar Madison, slouching
toward his next passage -- or at least lining up the next croquet shot.

My favorite novelist, Patrick O'Brian, once wrote about his character Stephen Maturin, then in his mid thirties, that he still had "lingering traces of youth." My next major passage, perhaps, will be the disappearance of those lingering traces. Our lives are a series of passages, aren't they, the last one being the passage into death?

Have a great weekend.

The end of the reunion, sunset.


"After thirty, a body has a mind of its own." -- Bette Midler
I find this post to be rather depressing.
You can call me "Deputy Downer."
A couple of things: what, precisely is the "heart" of middle age?

It took me a moment to realize whose family was re-unioning so I got over not getting an invitation (mostly).

And I don't know about you, but even though I'm approaching 50 on the outside I still feel about 25 inside, and my "inner image" of myself is still there. Just the muscles won't do what I tell them to anymore.
nah, Oscar, you're OK. Here's the REAL deputy downer:

Deputy Grand Master
Henry Edward Downer
Lawyer, Parliamentarian, Freemason
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