As middle age approaches, the arrogance of youth gives way to a gradual awareness that our lives are not the solitary adventures we always imagined them to be—that what we always thought were experiences unique to ourselves have in fact been done countless times before in a myriad of ways.
I was reminded of this recently as I went through my Grandpa’s old slides. I had seen most of them when I was a kid. Grandpa would thumb tack a sheet to the wall and we would relive trips to the Grand Canyon, or Easter picnics, or chilly Christmas mornings. I bought a little slide converter so I could put the pictures on my computer.
Most of the people I saw on my monitor are gone now. There is Aunt Myrtle, a perpetual cigarette dangling dangerously out of the corner of her mouth, sitting on a folding chair. There is Uncle Don, all five feet two of him, standing next to Grandpa with a beer in his hand. Uncle Don was the only member of the family who cussed in Grandma’s house. For some reason, Grandma always overlooked his transgressions, even going so far as to imitate his favorite expletive—“Jesus Christ,” Grandma would say with a laugh, deepening her voice to sound like him.
What struck me, though, as I took this little jaunt into the past, is how much I connected with all these middle aged people. For obvious reasons, I relate to them now in ways that I never could as a child. I see them, not just as relatives, but as people dealing with real issues, like kids and car payments and rent. I can step into their shoes and see not just the faded scenes in these old slides, but think about what must have come later—the drive home, maybe a trip to the store, or a quiet evening in front of the TV. They are me and I am them, fellow travelers on an adventure fraught with perils like illness, death and sadness, but also blessed with love and hope and companionship.
Maybe someday my grandchildren will look at an old photo of me sitting on a lawn chair and laughing with one of their uncles, and they will think how much it reminds them of what they were doing just last week in their own backyard.
In that split second, I won’t just be grandpa anymore: I will be a fellow traveler, well met on the road of life.