My wife and I have our engagement photo on our freezer door from nearly 10 years ago.
It was taken at the home of a co-worker at a party in our honor and we stood in front of a small pond. I remember that as the photo was snapped, I thought about how our future selves would look back at that moment, which was a crucial point in our lives.
That’s pretty much what I do when my picture is taken on a notable occasion. I think of the future me looking at the younger me. That’s why still photos are so much more powerful than video. They give the illusion of time standing still. Of course, we can’t stop time. And a still shot from years ago carries the reminder that time keeps moving, even as the image remains like a printed shadow or ghost of ourselves and our loved ones.
So I love old photos. Yet, I feel pangs of sadness whenever I pull out the old family shots, so I do it sparingly. I had a sudden sadness for my parents recently when I looked at my own boyhood photos and came across an extended family grip and grin shot on Thanksgiving. I stood next to my mother. And the way she pulled me to her showed an affection for a 6-year-old boy, like “this is my boy.” I felt a little sad for her and not because I’m anything special. But it hit me as I flipped through those pictures that her time with her little boy was fleeting. I muscled my way as fast as I could toward adulthood, toward being big. I graduated from high school and college without any sincere consideration of how they felt about me moving out and moving on.
But I hold my children now and feel the flip side. I want to stop time like a photo. And I snap all sorts of photos of my boy in a fireman’s hat or my daughter in a ballerina outfit. I look at my daughter’s old photos and have a hard time imagining her as that baby.
But the calendar speeds by and changes us all — way faster than we expect or want.
For instance, I turn 40 this week on a “Day that will Live in Infamy.” I asked my mother recently about what my grandparents thought of my birthday. She said my grandfather, a WWII veteran who served in the Pacific, was upset about me entering the world on “that day.” But my mother told him, “Well, that day will have a new meaning for us.”
I doubt that was actually the case for my grandfather. For those who lived through the war, I don’t think anything overshadows that day or the hundreds that followed, but it was a nice story from my mom anyway.
It’s been 40 years since that birthday conversation my mom had with my grandfather. And naturally, there are standard questions and phrases at any age milestone, such as: “Do you feel any older?” which is a horribly vague question that could bring the retort: “Well, older than what? Than I did yesterday, no. Than a toddler, yes.”
Then, there’s always lip service about “today’s 40 is the new 30.” Or “today’s 30 is the new 20.” But today’s 40 could be the new 50 for some of us, couldn’t it? That’s actually a little more plausible. Aching knees, new white hairs, apnea — these are tokens of a new fraternity. And I’m paying a little dues every day. I guess we all are.
Basically, leaving my 30s makes me want to feel a little better about myself physically. Perhaps I’ll get myself in a little better shape in months ahead. But do I have the motivation? That’s very questionable, because I haven’t shown much exercise drive in the last four or five years.
Of course, I have my 30-year-old self, who was an avid runner and swimmer, staring at me from the freezer door every day. I could try to be like him, right?
Aw, forget him, don’t I get a cake?
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.