A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Sometime during the last month or so, a significant event took place in our family: my youngest son, Jon, got taller than me.

OK, this isnít ďsignificantĒ like a birth or a graduation or a wedding or some life-shaping experience like that.Itís not something we can control, or something we have earned, or something that means anything beyond who stands where in the next family photograph.But for 31 years Iíve been the tallest member of our little family, and now Ė suddenly Ė Iím not.

I donít know what this means.I havenít been the second tallest member of a family since 8th grade, when I shot past my big brother Bud.I have two brothers-in-law and at least three nephews who are taller than me, but in my little nuclear family I have been The Tall One.

Until now.

Iíve gotta tell you, itís a little disconcerting to look at my son, who is just getting ready to start his senior year of high school, and to think he is the exact same height (OK, a LITTLE taller than I was) when I was a high school senior.Come to think of it, heís the same weight and waist size as I was, too.Heís tall and thin and . . .

Wait Ė thatís it!Thatís the shocker!Thatís the thing thatís throwing me off here!Heís the exact same height and weight as I was at his age, and I look at him and see a tall THIN boy.You see, I remember high school. Thirty-six years may have passed since the last time I slammed my high school locker shut, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember losing The Big Game to our cross-town rivals 28-27 after being ahead 27-7. I remember the mingled locker room smells of Brut, Right Guard, Clearasil and Ben Gay. I remember my first speech class speech: "Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, 'Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.' And Emerson was certainly right . . . " I remember "I before E except after C."

But I don't remember being thin. What I do remember is looking into mirrors and seeing a chubby kid looking back at me. Never mind Mom's insistence that I was wasting away. Forget statistical evidence indicating that I was just a shade under 6-4, 167 pounds and had a 34-inch waist. And please don't tell me it was all in my mind. It was all on my body. I was fat. I could see it. Mirrors don't lie.

At least, I didn't think so. But I look at my tall, THIN son standing before me today, and now I'm beginning to wonder. Either my eyes are deceiving me (admittedly, a possibility at this advanced age), or else the passage of time has given me a clearer view and a broader Ė or in this case, narrower Ė perspective.

Which can only mean one thing: Mom was right. And I was Ė horrors! Ėwrong.

And if I can be so wrong about a label I put on myself, maybe I'm not qualified to put labels on other people, either. Yet I do it all the time. We all do. We cruise along through life with this view of the world and the people in it that is, in our humble opinion, True and Right. And then something comes along to foul it up, like the "unsavory" political candidate who turns out to be a terrific public servant. Or the "role model" sports hero who gets busted for spouse abuse. Or the family from a "wacko" religious group that moves in and becomes the best neighbors we've ever had.

It can be disconcerting to discover that reality is sometimes relative, and that our personal perspectives are occasionally flawed. But it can be risky to close our minds to new information that could expand our view and increase our understanding of the people with whom we share this planet. We can miss out on some wonderful opportunities for personal growth and meaningful relationships if we cling to labels that have more to do with impulse and ignorance than actual experience. Snap judgments might work for home plate umpires, and permanent labels are good for cans of tuna. But neither approach works with people. Not even ourselves.

Which reminds me: our 40-year high school reunion is just a few years away, and I've got to lose some weight. The way I see it, no one will recognize me unless I'm thin.


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ó © Joseph Walker

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