The older I get, the more weary I get. I don’t know how to fully explain it, and I don’t mean that I’m more tired (though that’s true, too). I mean weary, like not just in my bones but in my soul, too. It’s not a good feeling, yet somehow it’s not totally bad, either. It’s almost familiar, even though it’s new, like somehow it was inevitable. I’m at the stage now where I’m working to decide what it means, and more importantly, what to do with it.
While I think that a small part of it has to do with the realization that I’m now unquestionably in the back half of my life, this isn’t a mid-life crisis. I have a precious family that means the world to me and a meaningful job I love. I’m healthy and active, and I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my life spiritually. No, it’s more than that. It feels the most like more of a vague realization that life is just flat out a struggle, and there’s too much suffering in the world. This loony election season hasn’t helped any, but this is way bigger than any political outcome. I just get weary.
I get weary of the polarization and seemingly unreconcilable divide in our country. I get weary of the need to hand money and a blessing out of my car window to the homeless. I get weary of seeing the photos and hearing the stories of especially children fighting horrific diseases for their very lives. I get weary of politicians acting in what is clearly their own best interest over those who elected them to serve them. I get weary of layoffs and domestic abuse and addiction and racism. It becomes overwhelming.
Yet when it seems like just one more all-too-human story may knock me down, another story…an offsetting story of hope… shines through. The amazing part is it usually only takes one of the good ones to counter many of the bad ones. That’s the power of good, of love. From those small, shining nuggets of hope, I get the strength to carry on. Even though I am weary.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” –Galatians 6:9
Do you know who this man is? Neither do I, but I feel like I should. This picture popped up when I Googled the tiny cemetery in rural Oklahoma where my great-grandparents are buried. It’s the spitting image of my great-grandfather, but it’s not him. Great-grandpa lived to be 100, and I was blessed to know him as an adult. Humans are hard-wired to recognize those we know. Though the resemblance is uncanny (my mother says “amazing”), I know it’s not him.
So who is he? The Internet associated him with a country cemetery of maybe 350 residents, of whom I’m related to a meaningful percentage. Plus he’s looking at me with my grandmother’s eyes and her brother’s face…he’s got to be a relative. We have no idea who he is, and there’s no one left who would know. The last of my great-grandparents’ twelve children–ironically their oldest–died five years ago at 100. My guess is that he’s my great-grandfather’s father, after whom he was named, and who’s buried in the same cemetery. The resemblance between them is too strong for him to be anything else. According to his headstone, my great-great-grandfather died in 1925. Anyone who might remember him would be at least 100. I doubt that person exists.
His face has stayed with me since I found the picture; it bothers me that I don’t know for certain who he is. He looks just like a man I grew up loving, a man who attended my wedding. We must be related, yet he is lost to time. I suppose that’s the fate of us all. We’re here for a brief instant, then the day comes when the last person who remembers us is gone. It is sad, but it is life. Already I’ve lost friends and loved ones at this halfway point of my life. Yet I remember. I remember them with fond memories; I will see them again, all too soon. And I will learn who the man in the picture is, and we will remember together.
“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” –Antonio Porchia
I celebrated a milestone birthday this week. It was a great day, in the middle of a ten day vacation in Florida visiting our son. We miss him a lot since he moved a thousand miles away. On the trip, we hit a couple of theme parks, swam (a lot), and just enjoyed time together as a family. I had originally planned to let the milestone slip by as quietly as I could, having snuck out of town for it. But as the family time and friends’ birthday wishes made me reflect, I decided to go public.
None of my other milestone birthdays have bothered me, but as this one approached, I found myself wanting to hide my age. As a logical person, that makes no sense…fifty is only one more than forty nine, and I was fine with that one. The illogic of my reaction made me decide to face it, because something’s obviously bothering me about it.
I don’t fully understand what it is. We hear (and say to ourselves) that age is just a number, and that we’re only as old as we feel. I’m not scared of dying, and my genetics say I’m barely over the halfway mark. I don’t have many regrets. My best guess is that, even with a lot of life likely left, I still feel like I’m somehow close to done. Of course that’s ridiculous, because the only thing I’m remotely close to done with is work, and I am looking forward to that. I just have no idea what I plan to do next, though I know I will do something. Perhaps this is just another example of my bad habit of trying to look forward too far, to plan too much. Since I can’t see around the next big corner, I shouldn’t even try. Instead, I’ll just have to keep working at living in this moment of my life. It is, after all, a pretty good one.
“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” –George Burns
I don’t know where the time has gone. We’re creeping up on Megan’s 17th birthday; later this summer her kid sister will follow her siblings into teenagehood. Seventeen. It sounds so near-final. I know I shouldn’t look at it that way, but it’s hard not to. Her brother left home a year older and never came back. No boomerang kid, no summers and Christmases back home the way I’d reassured myself it would be. He simply walked away, shoulders back and unblinking, straight into the sun and his future. Of course I’m proud of his independence and happy that he’s happy, but weekly phone calls and annual visits are no substitute for hugging him goodnight every night.
It’s impossible to say what path the girls will take. Our own journey would have been unbelievable at that point in our lives. We all must find our own direction, stumbling and feeling our way, getting extraordinarily lucky sometimes, falling face first into the pavement others. Our scars either make us hole up and hide away, or they leave us stronger…limping and bruised, but wiser and more certain of what we believe in.
I am just as optimistic about our girls’ futures as history has proven that I was right to be about our son. They are optimists. They know how to laugh. They are smart. They are so very strong and independent…I never worry that they’ll allow themselves to be taken advantage of by anyone. But I also know that they will make mistakes…some big…and they will get hurt. And I will continue to hurt when they do, just as I always have. Except that I won’t always be right there to rub their backs and say soothing things to help make it better. I will have to count on who they have become to get them through from here. I know I won’t be ready. It’s a good thing that they will be.
“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” –Denis Waitley
A friend recently shared a nugget of wisdom with me, that change helps keep us young. I’d never thought of it that way, but this fact was as immediately obvious as real truth always is when suddenly revealed. I was grateful for this particular truth as I head into yet another big life change, this time a job change. The thought of this change helping me stay young-at-heart has enormous appeal to me in mid-life, heading to a new company which I hope to be my last. I would like to know that the pain which change always brings will have benefit beyond being the toll required to get to the other side.
I’ve started over so many times that I’m no longer scared of it…I’ve even been told that I’m good at it. I would hope to have learned some tips and tricks, given how many times I’ve done it, but I still never look forward to it. Change is hard, you start over on everything: being accepted and trusted; learning the “don’t do’s” in the new culture; making all new friends. Oh yeah, and learning a new business. It’s exhausting. I’ve always hated the first six months of every new job.
But I also see my friend’s point: when we’re changing, we’re growing. When we’re growing, we’re learning. And when we’re learning, we’re regenerating. That sounds like the definition of youth to me. What a wonderful gift of perspective she gave me: I think that, for the first time, I just might enjoy these first six months.
“To find the joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.” –Pearl S. Buck
My youngest turns 12 today. Where did the time go? It seems like only a couple of years ago a little pixie with a mop of crooked, coal black hair joined our family. No matter how old she gets, I will always think of her as the little toddler who, just a month after coming home from China, sat on the deck in her purple Disney princess chair with her feet propped up, grinning as if she owned the place. She’s always had what her grandpa calls a million dollar smile that can light up a room. She has brought much sunshine into our lives.
But our littlest one is also our most stubborn. We’ve never been able to make her do anything she didn’t want to do. We’re lucky, then, that she’s a good kid. But still, there are times that leave us exasperated. Or puzzled. One year, when she was about seven, she used her sister’s razor to shave half of an eyebrow off. Surprisingly, it took a day for us to notice. When I did, I quickly realized that year’s school pictures, scheduled for the next day, would be memorable. And so they were. It has become a family legend over the years and tells a lot about our special daughter.
I’m so very proud of the smart, beautiful young woman she’s becoming. She’s a walking encyclopedia on science facts, a gifted cook, can design and build almost anything, and has a big heart for animals. I love her to the moon and back. Happy birthday sweetheart – I told you your eyebrow would grow back!
“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you! –Dr. Seuss
This is the 19th question in Matador’s list of 20 Questions For Every Spiritual Seeker: what is wisdom, and how do we gain it?
This is a tough one…I’m not sure there is a single answer to this question. As I’ve gone through my going on five decades of life, I have learned a few nuggets of wisdom which have given me peace. I do not, however, feel as though I have found wisdom. Here are a few of the most impactful lessons I’ve found for my life:
- My self-worth is based on what I’ve done for others, not on what I’ve accomplished.
- Laughing until I cry is healing, and I try to do it at least once a month.
- I reflect whatever I surround myself with, good or bad.
- The belly laugh of a child is the best sound in the world.
- People are, literally, all that really matters.
- God exists and loves us.
What wisdom have you found?
“The only wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” –Socrates