My friends always nagged me about be “too serious” when we were kids. Not that I can’t be childish and silly, but I’ve often been described as an old soul, or a man out of time.
So getting older — seeing gray sprout out on the face of the man in the mirror — isn’t something I fear. I’m ok being looked at as an “old guy” when I’m seen in public with the teenager. I can even be good with her telling me she can take me in a fight. After all, she’s joking. I think? Kids...
But it’s those moments when we are most prepared that life can still sneak in a sucker punch, and it threw a good one this week.
If you are on the social media, you might have seen it. A young fan of the Netflix show “Stranger Things” posted a question on an online bulletin board that went viral:
“In Stranger Things, we frequently see Jonathan go inside this to ‘refine’ his photos or something. I don’t quite understand what happens here. He puts the photo in water, and somehow this makes it more clear?”
Yep, that’s right. He was talking about a darkroom. And any of us who were raised on film or spent time in one were reminded that we’re old as dirt.
You can’t blame the kid for asking. I worked as a photo editor for a news organization starting in 2003, and we didn’t deal with film in any way, shape or form during my tenure. For reference, today’s seniors were born around 2003.
I remember recommending a digital camera to an organization I was working with nearly 20 years ago. I certainly couldn’t tell you the last time I remember dropping a roll of film off at the drug store, but I’m pretty sure it was more than 15 years ago. And I wouldn’t even begin to try to explain what a Fotomat was to the kids, let alone Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.”
Or, come to think of it, Paul Simon.
I’m not saying anything my contemporaries don’t already know. But as a young guy, if you had asked me how I would feel when I was approaching 50, I wouldn’t have had any idea. Maybe older, wiser, slower...but I’d never have guessed I’d feel exactly the same. Sure, I don’t bounce back the way I did, but inside, I’m the same guy.
It’s not age that catches you. Not the number, that is. It’s that you are much more aware of the passage of time, and that’s a tough one for a sentimental fool like me. Realizing your favorite things aren’t just no longer “cool,” but museum pieces. Rotary telephones. Landlines. Heck, when I was a kid, sixties music was on the oldies station. Eighties tunes are older than that now. You can even get a classic car tag for something built in the nineties.
And then it gets personal. Watching people you’ve known all your life — family, friends, coworkers, mentors, icons — fade away. Friends you knew in elementary school watching their kids graduate from high school and go to college. Some becoming grandparents. And a million other little things.
Sometimes, important reminders come from unexpected places. In this case it was a viral post on the internet: A youngster asking an honest question my generation would have asked a parent or a teacher. In today’s world, just substitute an online community.
And all credit to the kid. He was figuring it out, he just needed a push in the right direction, and he asked! And some seasoned veteran like myself was there for him. Brilliant! Some of our ancient lore has been passed on to a younger generation.
I’m just not ready for campfire stories yet. I’ve got an awful lot of living left to do.
Chris Six is a freelance writer and consultant. Learn more at cdsix.com