There's nothing quite like a family reunion to bring you face to face with your own mortality. Either you come to the realization, looking at all your elderly relatives, that you too are going to die, or else you get trapped in a bizarre conversation with one of them and start to wish you were already dead.
However, while attending my family's latest reunion, I have experienced an even more troubling moment of truth: I now AM one of those elderly relatives.
OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration. I'm not that old yet. But seeing all my younger cousins - the very cousins I used to flip with rubber bands and squirt with water pistols - interacting with their teenage children not only makes me feel ancient, it makes me want to do something drastic and impulsive. Like flip them with rubber bands and squirt them with water pistols.
Upon further reflection, though, I am slowly coming to terms with the fact of aging, recognizing that there are distinct advantages to growing older - and I don't just mean the discounts at Cracker Barrel.
For one thing, I'm no longer motivated by what other people expect. In my 20s and 30s, I was at times almost pathetically eager to please, as if I felt the constant need to demonstrate my level of responsibility and maturity. Now, my level of maturity is plainly visible in my beard and around the temples, and I no longer feel responsible for making everyone happy.
For instance, when driving on the interstate these days, I tend to find a comfortable speed and settle in, regardless of how fast the yahoo giving me the finger in the rearview mirror thinks I ought to be going.
That means if I'm doing 75 in the fast lane and the cars in the other lane are puttering along at 65, and you zoom up on my bumper wanting to do 90, don't expect me to pull over. Flash those headlights and those "I'm No. 1" signs all you want, but I refuse to impede my progress just so you can set a new Atlanta-to-Chattanooga land speed record.
Another advantage of near-middle-age is that I can cheat at sports with impunity. At the reunion, I let myself be dragged into a pick-up basketball game with my nephews on the condition that blocking my shot was strictly disallowed. During our family Thanksgiving touch football games, not only do I get to be all-time quarterback, but only 5-year-olds and under are allowed to rush, and then only after counting to 10-hippopotamuses.
So I've decided that I'm not going to let this whole being-one-of-the-older-people-at-the-family-reunion thing depress me. Instead, I'm just going to enjoy seeing everybody. Now if you'll excuse me, Aunt Edna is wandering this way and I feel a sudden need to find a quiet closet somewhere.
Lawrenceville resident Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.