When your birthdays push you past the half-century mark and beyond, there’s something the great P. G. Wodehouse would have called a stone-dead cert:  You have a long list of things that mark the increasing acceleration of time.  Candles on the cake, growth in the garden, waking up and finding it is Easter, when Christmas was just yesterday.  We’ve all got ‘em.

Yet none of those ubiquitous markers has smacked me on the old bean quite as powerfully as when, on a recent day, I looked into the light-blue eyes of my 12-year-old grandson.  And realized I was looking up.  Because, though we have checked and debated this metric multiple times in recent months, there is no longer any question. The ref has blown the whistle, and there is no need to examine the video. It is official. He is taller than I am.

If one pays the slightest attention to genetics, which I view as increasingly powerful, the older I get, this milestone should be no surprise.  Lanky, long-limbed Buddy, two months shy of his 13th birthday, is the child of a six-foot-plus father and a mom who has proudly towered over me since she was not much older than he is.  Still, there is something particularly poignant about this illustration of the fleeting passage of years.  Why is that, I wondered?

Maybe it’s apprehension about the official arrival of the teen years, and all that they routinely include.  I recently lamented to my daughter (his mom) about the marked recent signs of maturity in Buddy and his younger sister, two years behind him on the birthday calendar.  “I KNOW!” she wailed.  “They used to be babies!”  Indeed, I thought, remaining convinced that was only about two weeks ago.

Flags indicating the onset of Teendom in Buddy have been waving for several months now.  Not long ago at the dinner table, I watched while his mother’s husband swiftly and without comment swapped his slices of roast for hers, providing her with the cuts he knows she prefers. Wow, I commented in appreciation, that’s true love.

“Awwww,” Buddy moaned, “I want true love!  And I’m going to have wait so LONG!”  Maybe not, I thought to myself, remembering the 70-year romance of my parents, who met at 14.  You never know on that one, I said aloud.  He didn’t roll his eyes, but he probably considered it.

Then there’s the dreaded Maybe Syndrome, a highly effective tool for teens to wield against anyone who holds any degree of responsibility in their lives.  It’s a subtle, but effective, power-shifter.  There are days when anything you ask Buddy generates the same answer:  Maybe.  Want a sandwich?  Watch a movie?  Sauce on your ice cream?  Maybe maybe maybe maybe.  I recently took a cue from his younger sister, who is admirably sharpening her skills in fighting fire with fire.  He asked me after a recent meal about dessert, and before I could respond, she jumped in with strategic advice.  “Tell him maybe, Evie.  Tell him maybe.  That’s all he ever says, so say that.”

Across the dinner table on another recent evening, family chatter lagged for a moment.  Buddy stepped bravely into the breach to announce, apropos of nothing, “Guess what, Evie! I started wearing deodorant today!”

What’s a grandmother to say?  I blabbered the first thing that popped into the G-ma brain: Is it working?  What a rookie mistake.  His ever-vigilant sibling immediately seized the obvious comedic opening.  Leaning over from the chair next to her brother, she thrust her nose into his armpit, then issued her ruling:  “NO.”

So far, at least, in spite of all the fears around us in our tumultuous world, I’m not too worried about what the teen years will mean in life for Buddy.  He has a devoted, competent, no-nonsense mom, a very present father and stepfather, and many other adults who love him.  Still, looking down the road while looking up into his eyes raises other questions.  What’s my role now, with this boy I adore?  No more need to check his shoelaces or remind him to go to the bathroom or wonder if he remembers the safe way to slice an apple (well, I might still hover a bit on that last one), though he does maintain his propensity for getting lost.  He is much more likely to explain to me some complex scientific concept to me than the other way around. My role as second-team safety patrol and/or entertainment/information source is over, at least in its old form.

Another surprise brought this question to mind again recently.  I’m not sure if my reaction, which was clearly sought, was right or wrong.   A grandmother can only, with love, do her best in the moment.  The phone rang a couple of days ago with a FaceTime request, and when I hit accept, a shock awaited.  Buddy’s handsome face filled the screen, his shiny hair cropped to about a quarter-inch all over his head.

For months, maybe more than a year, our young man had grown out his hair until it reached below the top of his shoulders.  My hairdresser confirmed the predominance of this trend with young teen males, when I may have shared my dismay with a professional. Thick, wavy, and blonde, Buddy’s hair drew comments all around. In my circle, the reactions reeked of envy, especially from women of, shall we say, a certain age.  In recording this for history, I’ll leave out the details of my own view, which I may have failed to keep to myself in front of him.  Let’s just say I often missed a clearer view of his handsome face.

On the phone, on camera, my jaw dropped way below sea level.  What on earth?  What made you decide to do that?  And Teen Man gave voice.  “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I was bored, I think.”

Well, my goodness, I stuttered.  You look very handsome.  Of course, you were handsome before, and you’re handsome now.

Under pressure, it was the best I could do.  It’s Teen Time.  More surprises are surely coming.

Farewell 2023, and good riddance.  In our generation, it is hard to recall a more heartbreaking, crisis-ridden 12 months.  The year-in-review news summaries are enough to turn the toughest stomach. Wars, weather crises, political turmoil, unrelenting gun violence—it is enough to bow the most fervently faithful head.

As we all search the horizon for bright spots, seeking hope anywhere, I started a list of inspirations from 2023.  From the tiny and personal to the global, the private to the very public, here are 10 widely disparate things and people—some more serious than others–that were bright lights for me in a tough year. In no particular order:

Neighbors still help neighbors.  In early summer, a favorite neighbor up the street experienced a sudden and serious medical emergency while alone at home.  Her kind and attentive son, blocked from reaching her quickly by an untimely traffic problem, called a neighbor, who called another neighbor, who brought still more neighbors.  All raced to her, waiting with her for the ambulance and tending to her home and beloved dogs while she got the medical attention she needed in the hospital.  Waiting for her return home, we circled round, making lists of how best to help in the next phase and sharing ideas for what would mean most to her. Interestingly, our street of all recently built homes forms a very new set of neighbors.  There’s such hope in watching how quickly the bonds of community form and sustain.

Sean Dietrich is an influencer of hope.  This writer, a columnist, novelist, and humorist, devotes his career to inspiring readers through sharing stories of the downtrodden, the overlooked, the defeated.  He testifies to how they struggle, and how they rise.  He shared so many memorable stories this year there is no room to list them all, but his blooming friendship with a young blind girl named Becca who has an angelic singing voice has stirred my heart every single time.  You don’t follow Sean to experience literary greatness; you follow Sean if you want to believe that greatness in the human spirit still triumphs in daily life.

I got Wordle in two.  Twice in the same week!  There’s nothing like blazing, blind luck to inspire hope.  If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.  Never, ever, ever give up.

One doctor really listened.  Absorbing my frustration about a medical problem that lingered, unabated by treatment thus far, the young doctor (about the age of my daughter, I surmised) snapped his laptop shut.  He turned on the stool in the examining room to face me directly and hear me out.  My problem was nowhere close to serious or life-threatening, but it was throwing my daily life off balance, and I was getting desperate.  This has been going on too long, I fumed, and he quietly agreed.  Sometimes it takes multiple tries to find the solution, he added calmly.  Can you hang in there with me while we keep trying?  He really heard me, I thought to myself, shocked to realize how rare that has become.  Hope renewed by having an ally, I said I would. And I did.

The Covenant School parents just won’t go away.   The March 27 slaughter at Covenant School of three children and three adults by a deranged former student with an assault rifle was described by our mayor as Nashville’s worst day.  The ripples of heartbreak and despair spread everywhere in the community.  Conversely, there are ripples of hope, maybe small, but still visible, in the determined voices of the Covenant parents’ group that is publicly advocating for improved gun safety in Tennessee.  Soundly defeated, even harassed and vilified for their intervention at a special session of Tennessee’s legislature in late summer, they are already speaking out as the lawmakers prepare to reconvene in the new year.  There’s a faint but discernible glimmer of light in the widening circle of churches and other community-based groups rallying to support their position and kindling the public dialogue.

When love wins, the light reflects on many.  This summer, my daughter married a loving and kind man in a ceremony meticulously planned to reflect their joy in each other.  Watching a child transformed by a loving partnership is surely one of a parent’s greatest gifts.  Watching the parallel joy of her children in their new family unit adds a dimension that beams hope all over the place.

Kentucky re-elected Gov. Andy Beshear.  Major political forces invested heavily in creating a different result, but the voters in my home state nevertheless returned their governor to his office for another four years.  It is so hard, sometimes almost impossible, to like or admire politicians in these times. Yet Beshear inspires hope by demonstrating that public officials can choose to rise above the current tide and lead with vision and decency.  Faced with the pandemic and multiple weather-related tragedies, Beshear speaks common sense, refuses to indulge in ugly partisanship, and openly acknowledges his faith without weaponizing it.  Here’s hoping he has a long and successful career as a public servant in the best sense.

When you need an optimism demo, watch a dog.  Yes, yes, yes, legends are written, and movies are made about all the magical gifts of animals—their dedication, their healing powers, their learning skills and discernment.  On that very long list of things to cherish in their daily lives, I choose optimism.  In my house, there’s a morning ritual as predictable as dawn; my dog spins, dances and prances in front of the closet door closed on his food bin.  Not in so many words, he radiates hope and absolute, unwavering confidence: You’re going to open that door, I just KNOW it, and you’re doing to scoop that stuff for me, ANY MINUTE NOW!  I know you are, I know it, I DO, and I’m SO EXCITED I can’t stand it ONE MORE SECOND.  And I will say ALL this again tomorrow, and every morning after that.

Jon Batiste’s musical genius is getting the attention it deserves.  Many of us first encountered the New Orleans native when he was band director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  In the last couple of years his career has exploded, as he has won Grammys, an Oscar and more accolades for an astonishing range of work that includes movie scores and a couple of full-length albums.  Jon defies genre and radiates hope and faith.  For a quick dose of the power of Jon’s work if you aren’t already familiar, try his song Freedom.

There was a star.  On a chilly Christmas morning, a few days after the winter solstice, the dog needed his morning break just as dawn was barely evident.  Watching him from the back porch facing the woods behind the house, I looked up at the still-dark sky.  There was a bright, single pinpoint of light reflecting in the east above the trees.  A satellite, maybe?  A helicopter hovering?  Or the Eastern Star of Christmas?  I know what I think.