Well, that's another year in the books. Fifty-one, to be precise. A smidge more than half a century on the third rock from the sun. I still feel too young to offer much wisdom or perspective relative to my elders, but to my chagrin, I am now an elder of sorts too - or at least becoming one. And so for my own purposes and hopefully for the edification of a few friends near and far, her are five reflections on my fifty-first birthday:
Time is flying: I know. I know. It's cliche. Everyone says it. But darn it to heck if it isn't the truth. And maybe I'm stating the obvious, but it isn't just flying - it is accelerating with no terminal velocity in sight. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes says, "Vanity, vanity - all is vanity!" My understanding is that a more literal interpretation might be, "Vapor, vapor - all is vaporizing!" It makes sense to me. My high school years - vanished. College - poof. My 20's and starting a family and career - gone with the wind. My 30's and 40's trying to raise my four kids and find my place in the world - woosh! It makes me sad to think I was not as "present" for all of it as I should have been. But it helps me to be more present now because I know how fleeting every moment - and every season of life is. You think you will never finish school, but you do. You can't imagine having adult children, but you do. I can't imagine having grandchildren... oh man! I find myself savoring life more as I watch the grains of sand draining to the bottom of the sand glass. Those grains of time are so precious - every one.
Aging is a trip: I'm so bald and pale. And not to brag, but I also have managed to grow ear whiskers. Jealous? Did I fail to mention pre-cancerous lesions on my scalp and flappy skin on my neck? I also wear progressive lenses and I take lots of fish oil supplements. I wake up in the wee hours to you know... wee wee. And yet. By God's grace, I feel stronger and more agile and able than I've been for most of my life. I might not be as fast. I probably can't bench or squat as much as I did in my prime. But I have learned how to do basic social dancing. I can show up to the golf course without being lost. I roll with 20-something Marines in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and manage to hold my own (sometimes). So it's okay. Aging is okay. It's super weird, but good. I'm leaning into it. As Robert Frost said, "I would rather be ashes than dust."
Significance shifts: I grew up in a time and place that celebrated Great Men. I'm not intending to be sexist here - I just mean - people who shaped our world. Ronald Reagan was President when I was in my teens and he carried the torch for the Great Man / Greatest Generation worldview. I bought into it all the way. I wanted to participate and be a Great Man - to leave my mark. I didn't want to throw balls in a circle with a net or strum a guitar on a stage. I didn't want to sell insurance policies - and didn't know what a mortgage was! I wanted to do something Noteworthy. And here I am - writing this pitiful blog. LOL. But you know what, I can live with it. I'm okay. I'm okay with the quiet morning Bible readings and weekend beach walks with my wife. I'm okay making killer dinners for my step-sons. It feels good to enjoy the basic and mundane things - to sing my heart out in church choir and do it week after week. And if there is something more for me to do, so be it. And if not, then that Thai Salmon I made was damn good and I am so thankful for it and the friends I have made along the way.
Reframing struggle: Life is struggle. Even people with the Midas-touch will tell you that, I think. And yet we tend to interpret struggle as a reflection of our personal deficiencies or unluckiness. My life has been characterized by succeeding just enough to get by and enjoy many things - but not by any great success. And to be honest, it has been characterized by some pretty major failures. In fact, my list of failures is quite long - ministry endeavors, businesses, my first marriage. If my life were a graph, it would look like an EKG. It rises and falls and comes back to center - and then does it again, and again, and again. This has been frustrating for me in many ways. There is a voice in my head that says, "You shouldn't be struggling like this. You are a loser. Look at your peers out-pacing you and doing so much more in life. Look at what you've lost and all you haven't done and never will do." I've been having more conversations with that voice in my head lately. We talk over coffee and sometimes go for walks. And I say, "Hey, ego, here's the deal. I'm not perfect. I have really messed a lot of things up. But I'm only a loser if I give in and give up. I'm only a loser if I see struggle as defeat. I'm only a loser if I stop standing up when I fall. So, ego, my friend. With all due respect. Shut the f*** up. We've got things to do."
Death(s) and resurrection(s): If you live half a century, you suffer losses. You experience death in literal and metaphorical ways. Loved ones die. Relationships fail. Business ventures don't work out. Dreams are unrealized. And I've had my share. I wish I could blame luck, but the reality is that it most of my losses (not the literal deaths!) have been because of me. Plain and simple. Have I suffered due to things out of my control? Sure. But here's the deal. What I've seen - every single time is that death is followed by some kind of resurrection. Death is never the end of the story. Death makes way for a new beginning. For many years I have appreciated Fyodor Dostoevsky's use of Jesus' words in the Gospel of John 12:24 - "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone. But if it dies, it bringeth forth much fruit." And the older I get, the more real this dynamic becomes to me. But more than that - it becomes the hope that defines me. Because even at the relatively young age of 51 - I know the tread on my tires is thinning out. And with time flying and accelerating, my time here is not that long. But thanks be to God, I will be back. I believe that. And as Tolkien said through the mouth of his true hero, Sam Gamgee, "everything sad" is going to become... "untrue." What a hope we have that every tear will be wiped away in Christ. This is my only peace at 51, folks. I hope it is yours as well. Soli Deo Gloria.