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Weeds: Feelings differ as you mature

Pandemics make you do funny things. A few weeks ago, I got my old bike out of the shed where it’s been since the kids were young. After cleaning off dust and bird poop and pumpng up the tires, I went to circle our town’s lake trail.

I was wobbly at first. Steering and braking were challenging. As I struggled up the hill next to Allison Park, I had to make a sharp turn to get onto the trail in the park. I was lurching toward that when I heard a friendly, “Hi Randy!”

Sandy was having morning coffee with her sister Linda out on lawn chairs. I didn’t know whether to wave or turn or yell a greeting. Instead, I drove directly into the post in the center of the trail, partially biffing, causing mild bruises to my arm, leg, and ego.

I’ve gotten better since. It’s a pleasant way to spend a summer morning. I was doing that last week, pedaling on the east side where there are benches to set and look over Sleepy Eye Lake. On the ground in front of one, a young woman was sitting with her elbows back on the bench. She was staring out at the water.

I know her a little but biked on by as she looked to be purposefully alone. This is speculation, but she appeared to be unhappy. She’s about eighteen. As long as I was wildly guessing, I wondered if it had something to do with a relationship. Those tend to run hot and cold in young adults.

As I rode on, I recalled a similar setting long ago. A girl broke up with me in college, which caused me to go into a deep funk. She dumped me for a star on the basketball team which wasn’t consolation. I was depressed, unable to focus on my work or sleep well. It was darn emotions that I couldn’t control: sadness, melancholy, old-fashioned heartache.

I walked along a nearby lake early in the morning when I couldn’t sleep. I probably stopped to stare out at the water just like the young woman I biked past. There is something about water that can be meditative, calming, healing.

Years later I found out my lost girlfriend was divorced a couple times. There is a country song that goes, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers,” which fits here.

But, boy, did it hurt at the time. Young people feel hurt deeply. Things are intense. It’s not just pain. The lows are low, but the highs are high. Falling in love is really like nothing else you’ll ever do. Usually that is more a roller coaster than a shot straight up, emotions spilling everywhere along the way.

I think a lot of us look back at youth as a great place to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live there. As we age, wild swings of feelings settle down. Some of that is perspective. We can see more clearly that this is a moment, and moments pass. Some of it is finding such fervor exhausting.

Now from a distance I admire the intense emotions of young people. We need that that in our world. We especially need it now as our country deals with so many perplexing issues. I appreciate young people who want things to be better and don’t necessarily want to sit around and wait for it. Why can’t we eliminate racism? Why can’t we deal with global warming? Why can’t an economy run more equitably?

If any of those good things is going to happen, it’s going to take work. We absolutely need the vitality of young people. It’s easy to suggest they are unrealistic and impractical, head in the clouds, starry-eyed. We can give them a thousand reasons why change can’t happen. Or we can get out of their way.

This isn’t to say there aren’t emotions as we age. They are down there. The surface might be calmer, but the waters below churn. The joy that comes from hugging a grandkid is a full and vivid as anything can be felt.

Things change. There is one change that I don’t completely understand. I was talking to friend Greg Roiger, and we found we shared this: as we get older, we cry easier. I’ve heard that from other men, too. Tears flow that never did when we were younger.

It’s not just big events where one expects emotions to overwhelm. It can be a story we hear. It might be something we can relate to in our family or friends. Or it might be someone we don’t know at all having to deal with tragedy. It doesn’t have to be sad. Remember those videos of a mom or dad soldier surprising their child at school after being gone for months? Tears, guaranteed.

The first time I saw my dad cry he was about the age I am now. My younger brother Dean died of an illness early on a May morning. A few hours later we were outside doing farm tasks. My father was telling me something, and suddenly, he couldn’t. I wasn’t sure what to say. That was okay. It was one of those times where saying nothing was about right.

I was eighteen and didn’t cry that day. A few years ago, I wrote about Dean. Over the keyboard I felt my throat tightening and eyes moistening as I recalled his battles with blindness and a brain tumor. He won the first, but not the second.

A few years ago, I was asked to speak at a regional meeting of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in Sleepy Eye. I was honored to do that. I talked about small town life and raising kids, things that I thought the group could relate to. Near the end I planned to read part of a column I’d written about children leaving home. It was a bit of an older group, and I thought that was something most of them had experienced.

The story was about the day daughter Abby left for Seattle and her first job after college. She was driving and so literally went out the driveway and turned west. As I got part way through reading that, I felt myself choking up. I had to stop a few times to compose myself to go on.

Here’s one paragraph. “The day after Abby got to Seattle, I was in church. I watched a couple pews over as a little girl climbed up onto her dad’s lap. Then the girl leaned against his chest. Wanting just to be close to her father. That was Abby on my lap just a few years ago. It was a few years to me. It was a lifetime for Abby.”

Geez, I have a hard time typing that now. I was embarrassed by my struggle to get through. Afterwards a couple women told me it was okay. I was still embarrassed but thanked them.

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