With my daughter Sarah ready to head off to college in a few weeks, I’ve spent far too much brain power recently thinking about how we measure time.
A child of divorce, Sarah has been pulled between two families her whole life. Christmas Eve at one house, Christmas Day at the other. Her mother and I held negotiations for weekend hours. I often found myself wondering if I’d done enough with my time with Sarah.
And that led to thoughts on whether I’ve done enough with my life in general.
When a person turns 18 or 21, that is a monumental birthday. You think about what that age means. Voting, getting drafted, being treated like an adult instead of a kid.
Once you get past those ages, however, nothing much changes for many years (unless you are waiting until you are old enough to run for president). The only birthday you might be looking forward to is the one that lets you get senior discounts at restaurants and hotels.
Otherwise, you start looking at your life in terms of what you’ve accomplished.
I remember getting close to my 28th birthday and thinking of all the famous musicians who died at age 27. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Robert Johnson.
What had I accomplished in my time on this planet compared to them? It was a humbling thought.
I had two guitars at that age, but I wasn’t entertaining tens of thousands of fans in a coliseum. I didn’t have millions of record sales. I surely didn’t have any groupies.
Fast forward a few years, and I was 33, the age many historians agree was the age of Jesus of Nazareth, or Yeshua, at the time of his crucifixion.
Now there is a stark comparison. What could any of us claim to have done by age 33 that could match the impact of one former carpenter? Even those who were raised in a different religious belief know the name and basic story of Christ.
Fred and Martha got a new minivan at age 33? Oh? Did they found a new religion followed by two billion people around the globe?
Got that big promotion at the office? Yeah, I’m not impressed.
People seemed to think me turning 40 was a big deal, but I didn’t see it the same way that they did.
They looked at it as Jeff is now middle-aged. I saw it as “I’m the same age as my uncle when he died.”
This was something different. I wasn’t comparing myself to someone rich and/or famous. My uncle was a mechanic; he wasn’t rich.
But what he left behind were a treasure chest of stories that still get told and retold two decades after his death.
Bring up my uncle’s name around any family gathering, and that will set off a long chain of tales that begin, “Do you remember that time Richard …”
Whatdo peple consider the meaning of life? Getting rich? Sleeping with the most women? Being the most successful in your field of work?
And what about a legacy? What do we leave behind to show that we existed in this brief moment of time?
In a couple of months I’ll turn 44. That will be older than another of my uncles who died at 43. Elbert Wayburn Johnson won the national fiddling championship in 1971, then died Sept. 8, just a few weeks before my mom was due to give birth to me. He entertained people all through the South, but never became famous.
Do we have to achieve fame in order to have led a worthwhile life? Or is it enough that he brought joy to so many wherever he played?
I’m no entertainer. I have no desire to become famous. But, over 20 years in journalism, I like to think that I’ve been a part of thousands of families in this area. I’m there with you at the breakfast table as you check out the latest happenings. We’ve shared countless stories together. That seems like time well spent to me.
And I don’t even hog the bacon.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.