Some thirteen years ago today, Randa and I were making our way, post haste, from Georgetown, Kentucky, to the Olathe Hospital near Kansas City. Complications after the birth of our first grandson had put Christy in serious condition. A bit of surgery brought a quick change for the better, leaving us all able to rejoice more fully over Hunter’s birth. Reminiscence of that event brought a bit of focus last night.
As we sang “Happy Birthday” to Hunter and he blew out the candles on the cake Gramma Randa had made and decorated, I remembered him and his mother in that hospital room back in ’98. I thought briefly about the wooden swords I’d made for him and his brother, Gage, when they were in the pirate stage and how we’d played Hide-n-Seek in the basement of the house we’d lived in on Mitchell Avenue. I also remembered when I’d turned thirteen and how I thought it was such an important event.
It was. Back then, it was. Now, I’m not so sure.
In a culture that lacks the bar mitzvah or the night alone in the wild, we have largely lost the rite of passage that marks moving from child to man. In this age of indulgence and every kid with a cell phone by age nine, we have blurred the line that used to signal adulthood. Kindergarten graduation and eighth grade prom, grade school girls dressed like hookers and grade school boys playing blood and gore video games all signal a society that has lost its grip on the distinctions of adult-ness. We have postponed responsibility and advanced privilege to the degree that some notion of adolescence seems to extend from third grade to at least the first year of grad school.
Maybe it’s the sadness of that cultural shift that made Hunter’s thirteenth birthday seem so poignant. Then again, maybe it’s just waking up and thinking, “Holy cow! I have a teenage grandson!”
It’s not that unusual in life that what appears to be some great poetic insight is nothing more than another confrontation of our own mortality.