Monday, January 18, 2010

Reflections of My Younger Self

On Facebook, friends are posting pictures of themselves as young children, so I decided to join in on the fun. It was a spur of the moment decision, involving not much serious thought. Since I am traveling and have only one suitable picture scanned into my computer – a studio portrait of my family taken when I was a baby – I cropped the picture down to just my face and posted it.
At first I thought of it as just a cute photo and not much more. Unlike most babies, who tend to look like Winston Churchill without the cigar, I saw a striking similarity to Yoda, the wise old Jedi knight from “Star Wars.” My ears stuck out too far and I had a rather large head, something some people will probably say hasn’t changed much in the past sixty-something years. A few extremely observant people may even notice that my left eye is weak. That eye, as I now recall, had a tendency to cross when I was young, but corrected itself over time, although it can still be a little wobbly at times. It probably explains why I tend to see the world from a slightly different perspective.
This particular picture has always been a part of my life. It was on my mother’s dresser for years, before it was passed on to me when I accepted responsibility for all the family photographs. Since the portrait included my parents, I always concentrated on the two of them when I looked at the picture, thinking less about the little guy sitting on his mother’s lap.
Although they have passed away, in the picture my parents remain forever young. My father was 28, home after helping to make the world safe for democracy as the first sergeant of a bomber squadron during World War II, and was working as an accountant for a local lumber company in St. Petersburg when the photo was taken. My mother was 24 and had been a legal secretary until I came along. In the picture, like so many young couples in post war America, they appear happy and destined for a long and successful life, but like many families those dreams were never fully achieved.
Today, as I look at this old photography of myself, I can barely imagine what it was like to be so young, so happy, so untarnished by the realities of the world. I find my older self wanting to warn my younger self of the unforeseen dangers ahead, counsel the little guy on the best paths to take, and point out those extraordinary, but fleeting, experiences that he should savored the most. Then I asked myself: Would life be better if we were given a road map to follow? Perhaps, although I think not.
I have learned a lot as a result of looking back at my younger self. I am reminded of how bright the world can seem when dreams for the future are just beginning to take shape; I am reminded that casual decisions, such as posting an old baby picture, can help one rediscover long forgotten memories; and I am reminded that by reflecting on the past, I can better understand what the future may hold – probably a very good perspective for a rambling historian such as myself.

© Copyright 2010 by David Lee McMullen

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