I saw a piece in the New York Times earlier today, written by a woman, on the subject of things we learn in our 40s. It made me think about the fact that I'm exiting my 40s in a couple of weeks, and it made me wonder what, if anything, I've learned over the past five decades.
I'm actually looking forward to turning 50, in much the same way I've looked forward to most of the new and unknown things that I've experienced. I have an almost pathological sense of curiosity that I've come to rely upon to move me through scary thresholds and into new places in my life. I'm not really one to spend a lot of time taking stock of a situation, which may or may not be a good thing; I don't really care.
Which brings me to something I consider to be great about getting older: the not caring part. I'm not working hard, anymore, to maintain any illusion that I know everything or like everything (or everyone); I have let go of the need to be anything other than what I am: a deeply-flawed, under-construction person who loves being alive. I don't really care if I'm not wearing the right thing; I'm not afraid to admit that I don't know something, and I'm not worried about offending anyone by not liking the things I don't like. For the Times writer, it's jazz music, to which I would add bed & breakfasts, fake flowers, flavored coffee, anything mauve, yoga and veganism, as a warm-up. All of you people can like all of those things all you want, but they're not for me, and that's just fine. I have noticed, though, that often when I talk about things I don't care for, usually there's someone nearby who will work hard to convince me that I'm wrong. People seem to be uncomfortable with dissension, especially when it's around a popular activity, choice or way of thinking. I blame this largely on the prevailing system of education in this country, which seems to function for the purpose of creating a society of agreeable agree-ers.
I digress and apologize for wasting an entire paragraph talking about not liking things, because forty nine years have taught me a helluva lot more than what it means to like some things and not like others.
I have had, over the years, a number of experiences I would describe as times when some piece of my reality has been rolled back and I get the chance to peek into something much larger than I had previously been aware of. These transcendent moments -- a car accident, a newborn baby handed over to me, looking at the face of someone I love, peering down from an airplane, sitting in a pew at church, alone in the woods -- have always caught me off guard, always left me with a heightened sense of wonder and astonishment, and they seem to be happening with greater frequency of late. For that reason I high-five the big five-o and welcome whatever this new number has in store for me. I'm not afraid of getting older and I'm not afraid to talk about dying. I don't know how I'll handle death, if I have the opportunity to contemplate it before it happens, but as of today I can say that I'm OK with the idea of dying. I'm curious about that, too.
I think the best thing I can tell you, rounding the bend into half a century, is that this whole thing is really meant to be exactly what it is: a magical, mysterious trek. We are supposed to let go, things are supposed to come to an end, control is an illusion; there are lots of things happening that you can't understand or even see, but it's a good idea to believe in them anyway. You are supposed to experience a kind of movement in this life, upward. This planet is beyond beautiful, our time here is brief. We are here for one, big, great reason: to take care of each other. The rest is largely morass. Yes, it's a fine idea to do good work; yes it's a great idea to make beautiful things, but the core of the center of the truth, I'm certain, is this: we are alive to lift one another up, to help someone -- anyone -- who has less, and to believe in each others' dreams. We have got to, got to, GOT TO start putting our fucking devices down and start paying more attention to each other.
And do this, too: drink less. I have yet to see evidence of booze turning anyone into a better person.
Life is funny. Life is really, actually, very funny. You should never take it too seriously. When I was born, the number 133 was placed on my birth certificate. I visit a hospice patient each week, in a dementia facility in a nearby town, where she lives in room 133. On 3.13 of this year, I learned that I would become the next pastor of a lovely community church on Route 133 in Pawlet, Vermont. Does it mean anything? I have no idea. Is it great? Very.
Love it all up, the things that are easy to love and the things that are hard to love. Don't limit yourself; avoid the path of least resistance with every ounce of strength you have. And please don't wait until you are on your deathbed to realize you should have spent more time with your kids or your friends or your siblings or your parents. They may not be everything you want them to be, but they're yours. They're yours. Find your way to make peace with whomever or whatever is causing you grief and spend your days living as part of the family of man. What do I know at almost 50? Not much. But I'm sure that it's no accident that we are all here, together.
The Blessedness of Unity
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity.