Those of us of a certain age take in lots of scenery when we look at our lives in the rearview mirror. We’ve spent decades – and decades – navigating life’s inevitable twists and turns, embracing those exhilarating highs and doing our best to cope with life’s painful lows. If we’re fortunate, we learn from the lessons life manages to dish out and, over time, become wiser, truly grateful, and eager to find out what’s around the next corner of our journey. And that’s what we hear from John Minahan. 

John Minahan teaches English and psychology at the Lincoln School in Providence.  

The last time I was here I was barely out of 8th grade. Today I’m asking for the senior citizen discount. Having come to Florida for a teaching conference, I’ve set aside an afternoon to revisit the Kennedy Space Center. Like so many kids of the 60’s, I once dreamed of being an astronaut, so my prior visit had been, well, out of this world. My dream crashed and burned around the time of my first high school physics assignment, when I realized I was in love not with science but with science fiction. That discovery would ultimately lead to a career teaching English. Now, as I tour the old launchpads and think about how much has changed—for the scaled-back space program, for our divided and distracted country, for me—I find myself less nostalgic than hopeful. But I don’t really understand why until next day, when I’m waiting to go through security for my flight home. 

A young family gets in line ahead of me. Uh oh. The First Law of Family Travel states that the amount of stuff one travels with is inversely proportional to the size of one’s children. So: strollers of lunar lander complexity must be collapsed, diaper bags unshouldered, sippy cups scrutinized, huge fuzzy stuffed animals pried from tiny clutching fingers and sent trundling through X-ray scanners. On and on. The dad, muscling a car-seat with one arm and cradling a squalling infant in the other, turns to me and apologizes. We exchange smiles. The baby spits up. I begin remembering my own harried experiences as a young father, and also thinking about how my daughter now has to go through all this when she brings my grandson to visit. “Take your time,” I say. By which I mean, Don’t miss a single moment. 

In the vocabulary of flight, the word “grounded” means that bad weather or some technical glitch has kept you from taking off. But “grounded” also describes a kind of life that, I believe, is the best kind of life. I’m grounded by my family. I’m grounded by my students and their high-flying dreams. Fifty years ago, I watched in envy as a spacesuit-clad figure took a giant leap; today, I’m looking back in gratitude over a lifetime of small steps. And, having stuck around long enough to get the senior citizen discount, I can’t wait to see what comes next.