Born too early for what?

Published on: July 26, 2012

My friend Joe with Michelle perusing books at a sidewalk sale.  In many ways, he is a man from a different, perhaps better, era, but he lives fully in the present. Mitch Traphagen Photo

My friend Joe with Michelle perusing books at a sidewalk sale. In many ways, he is a man from a different, perhaps better, era, but he lives fully in the present. Mitch Traphagen Photo


Were you born at the right time? Do you sometimes feel as though you are here too early or too late? Do you long for a golden age, whatever that may be, or do you yearn for a future that has not yet been written?

I recently met up with someone I graduated from high school with thirty years ago. In hindsight, it is amazing how quickly three decades have passed. Our lives diverged moments after we had our diplomas in hand, and back then I had no expectation or even a thought that our paths would ever cross again. But indeed they did. I waited in a city restaurant for him to appear and I recognized him immediately as he walked up. OK, so I had the advantage of using Google Images to search for a recent photo of him, and I was holding a copy of his book that included a photo but neither would have been necessary. He was his own man back in high school and he remains so today. That rare trait alone made him immediately identifiable.

I told my friends that I was going to catch up with a “kid I went to high school with.”  We are both nearly 50 years old now so neither of us fit the “kid” category, except to the centenarians. But until I saw him in person, despite the photos on his book and on the web, he was frozen in my mind at 1981. When our lives diverged, he became forever young, barring all other evidence to the contrary. In my mind, he remained the “kid I went to high school with.”

Joe Goodrich, today an author and a playwright, arrived wearing a fedora, a natty jacket and immaculate saddle shoes, all in stark contrast to my blue jeans, untucked shirt and boat shoes with holes in the soles. He talked about his life over the past three decades, his career and his wife, always attempting to turn around my questions with, “And what about you?”  He was modest about his success.

After breakfast, we walked down streets in the city and his manner in approaching and respecting others revealed that perhaps I have become increasingly thoughtless over the years.  Politically correct or not, I’ve always believed in such things as holding doors open for others, particularly women, but for Joe, grace was apparently effortless.  I was happy for the reminder of his example.

I asked him if he ever considered that perhaps he was born 100 years too late. The moment those words slipped from my lips I knew that fifty years was a better time frame for him. His reply, however, surprised me — he said no, he didn’t feel that way and he had clearly given it a lot of thought. He had analyzed each decade going back a century or so and had asked himself, would it have been better back then?

Different decades carried different wars and depressions and calamities. He did allude to wishing he had made better use of his own past, however. There were authors and artists he could have made an effort to meet, some having passed away in the 1980s or 90s. He could have, “But I didn’t,” he said. “I didn’t and really, that’s that. There is nothing that can be done now.”

I looked at this person, someone who could only be described as dapper, poised and articulate, someone who had gone in my mind from the “kid in high school” to an accomplished and successful man in an instant, and I felt he was being logically honest but emotionally, perhaps, not fully forthright. Off the cuff and at the moment, he answered from his brain. A few hours later, he answered from his heart via an email.

I’ve been thinking about your question, “Were you born a hundred years too late?” Perhaps not a hundred, but certainly fifty. Whenever I start yearning for another time, however, I think of the message—as I see it—of Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS:  Each generation thinks the generation before had it better, lived in a better, golden era. Had I been born in 1913, I may well have found the 30s and 40s to be mundane and wished for the glories of the 1880s…

It is so easy to wax nostalgic about the past, the “good old days”, words I heard my own parents use while I was growing up. When I was a child, we not only did not lock the doors to our home, we didn’t even have the keys to the locks. I remember one time when my years were numbered as a single digit, a bully began chasing a friend and me — we simply ran into someone’s house. Naturally, it was easy enough since their doors weren’t locked. And, of course, the people living there did not freak out at the sight of two frightened-looking children standing in their foyer. There is a lot to be said of that era of relative innocence, a pre-terrorist time when Andy Griffith was not only alive, but was still sharing stories from Mayberry on the single bulky television sets that, by then, most families had managed to acquire.

After considering my friend’s words, I now realize there has been no perfect era in the annals of time. Each era carries positives and negatives, some of the latter being downright horrific. Without saying it specifically, my friend was the embodiment of the best of times. He lives his life by selecting the best elements of the past and carrying them with him into the present and the future. His debonair personality and dress and his chivalrous behavior harks back to a past golden age, perhaps several different ages, yet my friend lives fully in the moment. I think his way of taking the best from the past and carrying it with him in the present makes for the best of times right now.

I was born at the right time — I think we all were. We all have our own ideas of the good old days. Fortunately, as my friend so brilliantly has proven, we can choose to bring the good old days with us into the present. Perhaps if more of us did that, the world would be a better place. But if nothing else, I know I was born at the right time. Unlike my friend Joe, and despite my sincere wishes to the contrary, I look like a moron in a fedora.