I was talking with my wife the other day about different times in our lives and asked her this question: “What is the period or era in your life that you feel most impacted or influenced you?”
I guess the fact that we have been living through a time of such upheaval in the last year has had me thinking about such things. We have seen the worst medical crisis in one hundred years, political unrest, economic instability for millions and racial tensions that have been escalating and boiling over with the deaths of black men in multiple cities. Now in my early sixties, I am at that point in my life that I know there are fewer years ahead of me than there are behind, and I am trying to make sense of who I really am and why.
I think back to the grammar school years, with the early crushes and football practice and idyllic days of riding bicycles exploring nearby woods on a hot summer day. I remember the many visits to my grandparents. My mother’s parents had a farm in middle Georgia, a wonderful place for a small boy to grow up in the bosom of a loving family. I will never forget finding box turtles in the sandy ditch in front of the farmhouse, swollen with runoff after a monster rain storm. I remember spending hours in the porch swing on the front porch of that same farmhouse, back and forth and back and forth as I traveled in my mind to foreign lands, piloted a plane, captained a ship. Many, many dreams had their origins in that rhythmic motion at the far end of the porch. Butchering hogs, gathering watermelons, fishing at the pond, and taking rides in the back of the old truck to the country store to fetch small paper sacks of candy are indelible memories. Christmases were magic, with the floorboards on Christmas morning so cold that your feet would be numb after jumping out of bed before the gas heaters were lit for the day. Food, so much food, and visits by all the aunts and uncles and cousins, light and laughter and love through the ages.
I have been many places and done many things since that time on the farm as a little boy. I navigated the treacherous waters of the teenage years and high school, went to college, lived overseas with my family in Italy for two years, and then achieved my dream of admission to medical school, with residency to follow. I have had many different groups of friends and associates, professional partners and teachers and mentors. All have shaped me, taught me, buoyed me up and at times torn me down (albeit for my own good, I suppose). I have loved it all. But which time in my life has had the most influence on me, given me the most fuel to move forward, taught me the most about moving through the world and being a productive citizen of the planet?
I think you can see by virtue of the structure of this musing that the time that was most important to me was the early times, the formative times, the times that a young boy learned how to be a teenager then a young man. The time that pulls at the man the most is not the college years, the medical school training time spent in the anatomy lab or the first time I treated a patient on my own as a young doctor. The time that has stuck with me the most is the time that I spent with family before I knew about racism,economics, pandemics or politics.
I have a swing at my house today. It waits at the far end of the front porch, and I sit in it only sporadically. It means a lot to me, not because I spend hours there flying planes or captaining ships and sailing to foreign lands, but because I could do that if I needed to. It is a bookmark in time for me, a stained wood reminder of my past, a clear and present comfort in these uncertain times, a place that I can always retreat to any time I need to feel a connection to those who who have gone before, those who have molded me and shaped me in ways that no other periods in my life could have.