I saw a meme on Facebook last week that made me laugh. It read: "It's weird being the same age as old people." That's exactly how I feel: Older, but unfinished.
Recently, it has become clear to me that two opposite impulses drive my personality — sentimentality and stoicism. (I share this navel-gazing observation because I believe some of you might share the same feeling.) Please know, I am not educated in human psychology, but words carry deep meaning for me and these two words — sentimentality and stoicism — resonate a lot.
They describe seemingly opposite mindsets, but it feels like I have both impulses bottled up inside me. Most of my days have been spent trying to keep the hot and cold water balanced in the bathtub of life.
Turn the knob one way and I can be stoic: indifferent to drama, logical to a fault, bordering on cold. Twist it the other way and I can be sentimental: tenderhearted, overemotional, prone to tears.
Both of these forces share a common denominator: fear. Stoicism involves the the fear of letting emotions get the best of you. Sentimentality, on the other hand, is the fear that all good things will end.
It is clear to me that these counterbalancing traits flow from my parents.
My mother, the sentimentalist, would stand on the front porch of our house in Columbia, Tennessee, and cry on Sunday afternoons as I drove back to college in the 1970s. Last month, our older son went away to college for the first time, and I felt like my mother. Even now, by letting my thoughts drift to our son, I can almost weep on cue.
The big drawback of sentimentality is that it can be addictive and nonsensical — like wishing for a case of poison ivy just so you can feel the satisfaction of scratching the itch. The strength of the sentimental surrender, on the other hand, is that it allows an emotional release. Imagine a reset button for the soul.
My father was a stoic. An army master sergeant in the Korean War, he spent the rest of his life after the war resisting drama and consuming information. He subscribed to three newspapers, was addicted to C-SPAN and could tell you the names of both senators from South Dakota.
All this reading led to a devotion to reason. He was the guy people went to when they needed practical advice. He wasn't, however, the guy you went to for emotional support. If you did, he would listen and write you a tightly worded letter attempting to solve your problem step by step.
The weakness of the stoic personality is that sometimes friends and loved ones need empathy, not information. The strength is that sometimes information is exactly what they need. The problem is that the stoic person is not well-equipped to know the difference.
All this leads to an insight I had recently. The stoic and sentimentalist inside me are not doomed to an everlasting wrestling match. There is another member of this Committee of the Mind: Me.
And far from being a neutral bystander, I am chairman of the board. I can, and do, tell the sentimentalist inside me to "get a grip" and the stoic inside me to "have a heart."
I can cherish each of them as old friends. They're probably the reason that I have made it 40 years as a journalist and human-interest columnist.
But I can also tell them to stand down.
Thanks for the hand-me-down emotions, Mom and Dad. But at age 62, I think I've got things covered.
Email Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.