As someone with cancer, I regrettably spend a good portion of my time contemplating how much time I have left (or don’t). This is a particularly poor and rather ironic use of one’s time given that I cannot change anything by wondering how much of it there may be left and yet I am frittering it away by doing so. And although I do not spend all of my time thinking about such things, there are certain occasions, actions, events and impolitic statements that cause me to dwell on it even more than normal.
One such action is being on social media. Until very recently, I was not in the least bit active with any form of social media. Sure, I had a Facebook account, but I did not even know the password to it. I don’t know how many now-former friends I alienated by never responding to a single “Happy Birthday, Jeff!!!” over all the years where I had an account in name only. So before I recovered my password a few short months ago, my main source of media was television. (I am a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s, of course.) But since it is not interactive, would it be considered in today’s parlance “anti-social media”? If so, then that sounds about right for me.
Nonetheless, I am on FB and Twitter and even Instagram these days. All of this is relevant because I have been out of touch with those with whom I grew up – with hardly an exception – for over 20 years. I have never attended a single high school reunion, although I think that as class president – this is not bragging; someone had to do it – I am responsible for coordinating such events. (My argument is that I was a minor at the time I was elected and therefore I could not legally consent to any ongoing obligation.) Now that I am on Facebook, however, I have electronically re-connected with my former friends and classmates. But since I have seen none of them in over 25 years, I am often shocked by what I see on my tiny iPhone screen.
For one thing, some of my former friends had children fairly soon after last I saw them – I am from Appalachia, after all – and so now those children are the same age as the last time I saw the parent, which is particularly perplexing when the child is a spitting image of the parent. Thus, sometimes I see a picture of a child of my high school classmate who I have to look very closely at to confirm it is not actually my classmate. But then I realize, of course, that it is the child – not my friend – and I am shocked to realize that basically an entire life cycle has evolved while I was not paying any attention.
As disturbing as that can be, there is of course the friend who has not aged too well. Just yesterday I saw a picture of one of my high school classmates and the years have not been overly kind, to be overly kind. Yet, then I said to myself, “Well, she is almost 50. She is not so young anymore.” Then I realized, since I was in the same grade as her, that I too am almost 50. I was depressed for several hours afterwards.
Even worse, however, are two holidays: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. This is sadly when I realize that so many of the people that I once knew are no longer with us. It is quite upsetting, and frequently heartbreaking, to be scrolling through FB looking for pictures of puppies doing the darndest things and humorous political rants and to then inadvertently stumble across a long-lost friend’s posting saying how much she misses her mother or father on this day. Or sometimes – the worst times – both have passed. It makes me realize how fortunate I am to still have my own parents alive, something I fear that I, like many others, take for granted. I do not speak to them as much as I should and since they live full-time in Florida, we only see them a few times a year, and each time is just a brief visit (even if by the end it may not always feel so brief). As a friend of mine said about talking with his parents, it’s not that he does not have a good relationship with them; he just doesn’t talk to them all that much because “life gets in the way.”
Then the other day I had a first. With all of the revelations about my contemporaries now missing parents or the photos of them (that are not so good) or their children (that are good), this occurrence probably should not have come as a shock, but it did nonetheless. I was, as usual, sporting my West Virginia University cap, which serves as a beacon to fellow Mountaineers as well as a convenient cover-up of my incalcitrant bald spot (yet another unwanted reminder of aging). A man came up to me, nodded towards my cap and said, “West Virginia. Are you a West Virginia University dad too?” What?!?! A WVU dad?!? I wear this hat because I am a former student. My kids are still comfortably in elementary school. How old does this old guy think I look???? I politely explained to him that I was not one who writes checks to that university, but rather one who attended it. We exchanged some pleasantries, although it was hard for me as I was rocked by this man’s aging of me.
When he finally walked off, probably to rest after having stood for so long, I turned to my friends. “Can you believe it?!?” I exclaimed. “How old does this guy think I am, anyway?” My friends were circumspectly quiet. I was stunned. “Please,” I implored them, “tell me I don’t look as old as that guy!” Their hesitancy said it all. All of this, including the passing the other day of yet another Father’s Day, brings into sharp relief how quickly time goes by. It is almost as if one can feel – powerlessly – the inexorable march of time while wondering if it has been spent wisely. I don’t have a bucket list or anything like that to measure this by. I have Melissa and Will and Andrew to remind me my time has been spent wisely (within a margin of error of three to five years). And I still am blessed to have my parents. Maybe I will give them a call.