Wednesday, July 30

Midwest Trip, part 1: The Passage of Time

It is now August and our trip to our grandparents in Oklahoma and Illinois is already beginning to slip into the recesses of my long term memory. There are many things to write about but I will not be able to include it in one post. Since it would put many people--including myself--to sleep to read a huge blog I will make a few blogs to chronicle our adventures. The trip really taught me a lot and I have been pondering these things since I returned. I suppose you could name these blogs, "What I learned on my summer vacation."

Anyway, I suggest you read my wife's blog on her grandfather whom she calls Afi (Icelandic for grandpa). His wife and his friends call him Harry. Harry turned 97 years old on our last full day in Centralia, Illinois. 97 years old. My mind cannot conceive 97 years nor can it take in all the changes that have occurred since 1911. Two world wars, the rise of the automobile, the Great Depression, the development of powered flight, the space race and a man walking on the Moon, the Cold war, interstate highways, skyscrapers, the advent of the computer age, the end of the majority of colonialism, terrorism, good times, bad times, et cetera, et cetera. Harry has seen a lot of change in the world.

On the wall in their house is a picture of Harry at about 15 years old so it was taken in the late 1920s. He is with his parents and his sister in a posed family portrait. It's a very nice picture. It was odd, however, to look at this picture and then glance over at Harry sitting in his chair where he spent most of his time. In the portrait, Harry is literally the picture of youth. He had a serious look on his face like they always had in portraits those days. His was a young face with dark hair and you could tell from the picture that he was able-bodied. To look at Harry now is to look at the ravages of old age. "It's hell gettin' old, kids," he told us many times. Worst of all is that Harry has Alzheimer's.

This may seem rather depressing to think about but it didn't come out of nowhere. Days before we were at my grandparents house in Oklahoma and I found a book about our genealogy. The furthest back they could trace my family on my dad's side is to a guy name Thomas Alley that came to America in the early 1700s. Most of the people between Thomas and me were "preachers and teachers" my grandmother told me. I thought this was funny since I would consider myself a devout Christian and also work at a university. Anyway, my grandparents also had many pictures in their house. Pictures of them when they first married. Pictures of my dad and uncles and aunts. For some reason it really struck me to see the changes in my family over the years; to see them in their prime in these pictures but then to consider them now as they are.

I guess what bugged me--or intrigued me--was wondering how I would look and feel when I hit 50, or 70 or even 97. Sometimes I catch myself looking at my childhood pictures and wondering if I could have avoided some really hard things had I done things differently. Don't get me wrong. I don't have a bad life. Far from it, in fact. But my life tends to lean towards tedium and waiting for what's next. Sometimes I look at my circumstances and get caught up in thinking that my life is the way it is and there isn't anything that can be done about it. But I do not want to look back on my life 60 or 70 years from now with regret. I refuse to because I have lived with regret for long enough. It's time to make decisions that will help me truly live.

So, as I sat in Centralia, Illinois and looked at the difference between Harry at 15 and Harry at 97 I began to feel sorry for him. But the more I learned about him it seems that he's had a good life. When he was doing well during our trip he had a good attitude and joked quite a bit. He has a wife that is unendingly devoted to him and is full of patience. She is also the only one he seems to remember consistently and, after 48 years together, are still in love with each other. It would seem that he's made some very good decisions along the way.

I know that the decisions we make are a big part of who we are. I can decide to sit around and settle for the ho-hum life I've been living or I can decide to act and make decisions expecting my life's purpose to be found. That sounds good to me...

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