In 2010, I received a Facebook announcement that my 10-year high school reunion was coming up and my jaw dropped. There was no way this time in my life had arrived. Then last year, when another Facebook announcement popped up regarding my 20-year high school reunion (which inevitably got canceled due to Covid), my first thought was, “There is no way it’s been ten years since that last reunion message popped up.” My second thought was, “Twenty-year reunions are for old people! I’m not old!”
The passage of time is truly a mystery. You tell yourself certain events are so far away and before you know it, you’re there.
One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is that my life is now long enough that I’m starting to view it in chapters. As kids, little memories stick out to us like an excellent birthday party or a fun family vacation. But now, life is chopped up into little slices like a carefully cut cucumber. And each little seed within each perfect piece is a memory that represents that slice of life.
Last week, I had several hours in the car to myself as I drove north from Knoxville to the northern tip of Kentucky. Looking off in the distance at the Appalachian foothills, I examined their layers; not bottom to top, but front to back…one behind the other behind the other behind the other, each one seeming taller than the one before it. The closest mountains appearing clear and vibrant, the furthest ones back looking hazy and dismal (kind of like how our eyesight progresses throughout the years), but together creating a beautiful palate. One without the other would just be one boring mountain. It’s the layers that bring the beauty.
As I approached the wavy terrain, I began to connect my life chapters to these layers of foothills. The closest most vivid ones in the front signifying my present life, right there in front of me, getting closer quickly. The mountains in my rear-view mirror being the life I’ve already lived, getting further and further away as I travel forward. The hazy mountains in the far distance ahead being the expected yet unknown life that is waiting before me, my undetermined future. Each mountain range having high points and low points, just like the ups and downs within each life chapter. From a distant picturesque view (like scrolling social media), the mountains look lush and soft and comfortable, but if you were to get real close up and personal you’d realize there are parts that are tangled and sharp and broken, causing you to trip and forcing you to get back up. And sometimes the tops of those faraway mountains are so completely covered in fog and haze that you can’t see them at all, leaving you wondering what it will look like when the fog lifts…how high they will go…what is to come. Surprises, good or bad, that we could never anticipate. A new love. Heartbreak. A dream job opportunity. A diagnosis. A child. A move. Your own expiration date.
When it’s time to turn around and drive back, seeing these mountains in the opposite direction is like going through memory lane. I’ve driven this route many times before, but everything looks a bit different, a little altered, and everyone else traveling alongside me sees the same thing from a different perspective, noticing things I didn’t and vice versa, remembering parts I never noticed and ignoring parts I never forget.
As friends and family mention my 40th coming up I’ll give the typical eye roll or wah-wah sound, but in reality, the people in my life whose lives have been cut short due to sickness or accident or unexpected tragedy have really kept me counting my blessings on getting to age. Their final hazy mountain came before mine. Their book got fewer chapters. Even with the aches and pains and random medical issues I am truly grateful that I’ve gotten to add another number each year.