January 2022, and I am living in my sixth decade of life. I am grateful for yet another year granted me by the grace of God. I know that my physical attributes may signal to others as “old” because it includes silver hair, skin that is losing its elasticity, a strange obsession with music from the 1970’s, and a belly that jiggles as I laugh even after years of yoga and exercise. I am simply grateful for these years, because I’ve stopped worrying about the insignificant things in life and have come to a better understanding and appreciation of myself. I’ve lived long enough to accept what I can do and what I am unable to do with a good sense of what works and what doesn’t — which gives rise on occasion to be a grump and say important things that people don’t want to hear.
Is it wisdom? Maybe. It’s tough to define. Wisdom cannot be focused on how much knowledge I have accumulated. It is different from knowledge. It embodies moral elements that impart the down-to-earth pragmatics of life. When I think of the wise people in my life, I think of how they relate to others and how they are fully present as they listen with attention before they part their lips with “words of wisdom.” Wisdom emerges not necessarily from their book knowledge but from their life experience and is reflected by a sense of balance, of making thoughtful decisions, and acting with understanding toward people of different backgrounds and perspectives. It is out of savoring the fullness of each passing moment (even the difficult ones) in the years of my life, from which is gained the understanding and compassionate awareness with regard for the frailty and strength of others. It is wisdom.
Through good fortune and tragedy alike, and across the years of six decades I have forged the truest possible friendships. I have learned that such heartiness doesn’t necessarily come from being raised in the same neighborhood or under similar economic conditions. It doesn’t come from attending the same schools or belonging to the same religious group or having children the same age or rallying for the same political candidates. It is friendship forged not out of convenience but out of honesty and respect, of seeing our narrative from the inside as we experience it and from the outside in a way that we cannot. These are friends that draw out a candor in us and walk us to our own conclusions while holding us to the highest standards of our character even when they don’t always agree. The years have taught me well to be open, curious, and willing to embrace paradox, rather than choose sides. Whatever else might separate us, sharing a love for each other is enough common ground to start the harder conversations of aging and time.
We make assumptions about time and age. Well, the answer is simple. We have today, and that’s it. We don’t count the years; we live the day. And who says we must act our age? There are days I feel 10 and sometimes 25 and 40 and 50. I believe that my life should not be defined by numbers but by what I have experienced and what I have given of myself. In the end, the number of years attached to my life will not matter. What I have given of it to others will.
And if 60 is really the new 40, then I haven’t reached middle age yet! But given a choice, for me, I’d rather think 60 is the youth of “old” age because I choose to live life looking ahead with joy, and not behind with regret. I am profoundly grateful for every act of kindness, whether from strangers or friends and family; thankful for every blessing from a loving God, realizing that the past is past, and the present is truly a present. It is my gift of life to fully enjoy today and every day, and live in a way that will best serve others by God’s grace!
Lithography by Jansem (private collection)