I recently watched a documentary about college football players reflecting on their playing years. There are a lot of interesting dynamics going on in those conversations, but I am always struck by the phrase “Those were the best years of my life”.
I have been writing columns for a long time. The feedback from readers has often been they love me writing about my childhood years. Those were some incredible years, made more amazing by the passage of time. Were they the best years of my life? Probably not, though I cherish them just the same.
High school came along, and I flourished but they were difficult just the same. Who would I ask out on a date? Would she say yes? Fifty years later, at our high school reunion it was almost therapeutic to hear the fears and insecurities we all universally shared back then, even the most seemingly popular of the kids. Those years were incredible, yet tough.
College was high school on steroids. Friendships were made on a more mature (most of the time) level. We were in that incredibly difficult time of becoming adults, finding our independence, and searching for our paths to the future. Even more rewarding times, yet still tough.
Post-graduation led to job and grown-up responsibilities. This was brought home to me the first time I had to buy a set of tires and pay for them myself. Thank goodness for the tax refund I had unexpectedly received a couple of weeks earlier. It is not often that the IRS saves the day.
My twenties brought a marriage to my best friend, and the birth of our two daughters. It is hard to compete with those days for the best, but they are somewhat of a blur. Young couples with children survive because, well, they have to. I cherish the memories of those days; at least the ones I can remember.
The following years brought us tennis and clubs and after school programs and the angst and effort of being a parent of teenage children. I still wonder if it is harder to be a teenager or to be a parent of a teenager. I guess it depends on whether you are the teenager or the parent. A wild ride in either case.
The college years of our children crystalized our understanding of our evolving world. We loved interacting with our daughters’ friends as their world expanded. Their growing independence was frightening and yet rewarding at the same time. Good times were had on so many levels as we realized we loved having adult children.
The new sons-in-law were a great addition to the family dynamic. We were and continue to be blessed by our daughters’ choices for their life partners. The grandchildren that followed remain one of life’s greatest rewards. A grandparents’ love for this next generation is something you cannot describe until you experience it.
Quickly you move from helping change diapers yet again to T-ball, dance recitals, volleyball, and stage productions. The lives of the families of your children become so complicated it is hard to get everyone together. We tend to forget that our own family was once the same way.
Before you turn around, you have not one, but two teenage grandchildren. You have not one, but two great-nieces and nephews on the way. You have a grandson approaching your own height and a granddaughter that is flourishing on the stage, court, and classroom. Add another grandson that loves every sport available and the smart, charismatic young caboose bringing up the rear and you realize these are golden years as well.
Not mentioned are the 45 years Mary Lou and I lived in a wonderful small town in South Georgia, or the careers that we both enjoyed and found rewarding. The friends and business associates that became part of the fabric of our life. The church family that gave us comfort and support in good times and bad.
And then there was retirement. The selling of our company was traumatic in some ways and empowering in others. We made the first move to another community in our entire married life. A different house for the first time in 37 years.
I have learned that emotions work both ways. It is okay to mourn the move from your hometown while embracing your move to your new home. Donalsonville and Auburn do not compete in our hearts. They were both wonderful stops on our life’s journey.
It is okay to mourn moving away from lifelong friends while embracing new friends. They will both always have a role in our lives. The ability to call so many people friends in different places is one of the greatest blessings of our life.
The best years of my life? At every stage along the way, I would have said right now. I would say that even today as Mary Lou and I embrace and flourish in our new home. We have been blessed at every stop along the way. From childhood to retirement, life has been good. Those years do not compete. Life is a journey.
For as long as I can, no matter where I am, I choose to believe that these days, right now, are the best times of our lives.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org