By Mike Gordon
The men around me looked tired in a way that caught my breath.
I picked out familiar faces among the mourners, as we listened to a eulogy for a friend.
Some I knew well. But most were older acquaintances whose presence reminded me of things I had done a long time ago.
Pleasant memories ground against feelings of inadequacy, though, and I tried to weigh their importance, startled by their presence.
Moments like this can move a man. They arrive without warning, like love or success, or even death, I suppose. They can leave just as easily, without explanation.
No, this did not make me feel old. Instead, it told me I was a grown-up.
A grown-up. For better or worse, that isn't something I feel very often. Men are supposed to embody that concept with the things they do and say. Not me. Look at my life.
I coach a team of under-10 soccer players, and when we're running around the field, the last thing I feel like is an adult. Their laughter is an antidote for stress.
My desk is covered with toys.
When colleagues call upon me for true soul-searching thought, the words fail me more often than not. The same thing happens when someone asks me about the mechanics of my life, such as the intricacies of my mortgage.
Real grown-ups would not have this problem. They know the answers to things. Not me. I feel adrift, initiative stuck on "pause."
Among the mourners sat the father of my oldest friend. He sat slope-shouldered and full of sorrow, not the cigar-chomping role-model I remembered. From the back of the room, I cried for him, too.
He and his son had introduced me to many of the people around us before I could shave, helped me get a summer job as a construction laborer to pay for graduate school and kept me from emotional collapse when my father died. I'm sure they never realized how important that was to me.
To think of those days made me smile.
But I wondered if these old acquaintances ever felt adrift. Did they feel grown-up, a master of their fate?
My friend told me not long ago: "This is our time. It's our turn." Not me, I thought.
So I wondered where the swirling emotions were taking me. Even now, I am not sure.
The man we had gathered to honor touched everyone in different ways. No matter how long it had been since you had seen him, you felt drawn to be here on this day. His was a legacy of hard work, devotion to family and loyalty, but everyone spoke of his endless humor.
And that's where I found the closest thing to a grown-up answer.
His smile kept them feeling young, even as they grew accustomed to their graying reflections. A worthwhile antidote when life grew too serious?
I think so.
Reach Mike Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8012.