Consider my address book—and yes, the simple fact that I have one already tells you a good deal about me. All the names, street addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers that matter to me are still on paper, not in a computer or on an iPhone, and it’s not complicated to know what that means: I’m an old guy getting older. Going on 71, though I can hardly believe it. And that little book shows all the signs of where I’m headed. It wasn’t true a few years ago, but if I start flipping through the pages now, I can’t help but notice that the dead, with their addresses and phone numbers still beside them, are creeping up on the living, and that my little address book looks increasingly like a mausoleum.
Age has been on my mind of late, especially when I spend time with you. This year, my father, your great-grandfather, who died in 1983, would have been 109 years old. And somehow, I find that moving. I feel him a part of me in ways I wouldn’t have allowed myself to admit in my youth, and so think of myself as more than a century old. Strangely, this leaves me with a modest, very personal sense of hope. Through my children (and perhaps you, too), someday long after I’m gone, I can imagine myself older still. Don’t misunderstand me: I haven’t a spiritual bone in my body, but I do think that, in some fashion, we continue to live inside each other and so carry each other onward.
As happens with someone of my age, the future seems to be foreshortening and yet it remains the remarkable mystery it’s always been. We can’t help ourselves: we dream about, wonder about, and predict what the future might hold in store for us. It's an urge that, I suspect, is hardwired into us. Yet, curiously enough, we’re regularly wrong in the futures we dream up. Every now and then, though, you peer ahead and see something that proves—thanks to your perceptiveness or pure dumb luck (there’s no way to know which)—eerily on target.
The Future Foreseen
Back in 2001, before I even imagined a grandson in my life, I had one of those moments (and wish I hadn’t). It was sometime just after the 9/11 attacks when, nationwide, Americans were still engaged in endless rites in which we repeatedly elevated ourselves to the status of the foremost victims on the planet, the only ones that mattered. In those months, you might say, we made ourselves into Earth’s indispensible or exceptional victims.