Sunday, May 29, 2016

JFK's Birthday

Today would have been John F. Kennedy's 99th birthday. I doubt he would have seen it, even if he had lived out his natural days. He was never in good health. But I grew up with a huge JFK poster in my childhood bedroom, and a little bronze bust of him, the kind banks used to give away, on my shelf. I was born Catholic in Massachusetts in the 60s; Kennedy loomed large in my childhood.

Today is also the end of my 25th college reunion at Harvard. I have been having a great time with my classmates, and it's ending before I'm ready. I feel like I've only spoken to half as many people as I'd like, and only for half as long as I'd like. But at least I got to come; JFK did not live to his 25th. I've been joking that I will soon have achieved two things John Kennedy never managed: going to my 25th Harvard reunion and turning 47. But it's not funny. It's just true.

Fifteen of my classmates are already gone, all too soon. Some I knew and some I didn't. And two of the seven people I roomed with over those years have already passed away. I wasn't in touch with them as much as I would have liked. I wish I had taken the chance while I had it.

Mortality has been on my mind, because of my mother's passing a few months ago. Some of my college classmates knew about her death before this weekend, because of social media. Some old friends didn't know, and I told them over the last few days when there seemed like a reasonable moment to tell them. Others I didn't tell, because the time was never right or because we have never been more than casual friends.

I've grown obsessed over the last few years with the Grant Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study of human aging that tracked 268 Harvard boys over the rest of their long, complicated lives, trying to assess their mental and physical health and growth. They are the worst social science sample possible, so over privileged that they can't be representative. I mean, the guys in that study had a 1 in 268 chance of actually being JFK. But I think about them a lot, because the study illustrates so much about growth in the second half of life, and I am coming to the second half of life. And the Grant Study promises that there is a continuing process of maturation and growth after, for example, a 25th reunion. It is at once comforting and challenging to think that I still have a chance to grow, and to become a better man.

Whether I like it or not, my life is in transition. This week, before I left for Boston, we had a visit from my father and brother at our new house. And I was sitting at my dining room sharing a meal with my family, and Mom wasn't there. It's a new place, and the same old family, but not the same old family. My family changes, and my place in my family changes. There is so much left to do between the middle of life and the end.

The Grant Study also emphasizes the crucial importance of relationships and emotional connections. And perhaps that's why my reunion seems like such a gift. But it is bittersweet to see all these faces for such swift moments, when I want to sit them all down for long, open-ended conversations. And so I guess that's my lesson this Memorial Day weekend: how it all goes by so very, very soon.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

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