Stopped at a traffic light, I turn on my left turn signal. The car in front of me also signals a left turn. The blinking of our lights are far apart, but soon, they get closer and closer, until, for a moment, they blink in perfect synchronicity. Then the sequence is off and gets wider. Before I can enjoy another cycle, the traffic light changes and we go our separate ways.
That was how I managed my traffic light boredom, before smartphones let me check emails and send quick texts. But the blinking sequence always struck me as a metaphor for how the years between me and my older brother or parents seemed so far apart, then so close, only to widen again.
In my youth, those relationships were miles apart. My older brother seemed worldly and wise, and my parents were of an age I hoped never to reach. In those teen years, daughters fought with mothers, and sons thought fathers were hopelessly out of touch.
With age, the family lights blink closer together. My brother and I became peers, daughters share intimate details with their new-found friend of a mother; and fathers play competitive tennis with their sons.
Even adults of unquestionable authority, like teachers, evolve into valued peers. A few years ago, a school reunion included one of my favorites — Mr. Gist, who taught English and Literature. At the reception I spotted Mr. Gist across the room, and said to a classmate, "Hey, there's Mr. Gist. If we're 50, he must be ancient." Turned out Mr. Gist was only 59. Our lights were blinking together that evening.
If only those lights would stay synchronized a little longer — but they don't. My brother retired early due to illness and soon passed away. Fathers move from competitive tennis singles to social doubles and then to spectators. Daughters who lunched and gossiped with their best friend, now parent their mothers, while struggling to raise their own family.
For the lucky ones, the family lights will synchronize again, before the traffic light of life changes and we go our separate ways. For others it may happen only once. Either way, it's a gift. Don't squander it.
With a Perspective, I'm Al Gilbert.
Al Gilbert is a sales and relocation consultant. He lives in Brisbane.