Saturday, June 26, 2010

Turning Sixty (1)

I used to think that age was unimportant. I enjoyed having people think that I was younger than my actual age, a state of affairs that lasted until about age 50. I remember quite clearly the evening a group of faculty went out to a restaurant. The hostess asked if I qualified for the Seniors’ Discount: I had gone from about 40 to 60 overnight! (I think it was something to do with my hair – sandy or reddish one day; white the next.)

I remember turning 40. We were in Zimbabwe at the time. Mike Burgess and I are about the same age, so we comforted each other as we went over the hill together. I remember that I could joke about it because the truth was, I didn’t feel old. I felt like 30, not 40. Fifty was a different story: it was the beginning of feeling older too.

Lois gave me a wonderful present: 50 birthday celebrations for my 50th birthday. We finally finished the last one as part of my 60th! And of course I was in good health, able to enjoy life in so many different ways; but I felt the reality of years, whatever the case.

Now 60. I feel older indeed. I enjoy playing recreational soccer in a six a side soccer league in Winnipeg. I am able to climb many many steps up to my office in the seminary five days a week. I met my old friend, Mike, last year. We were both 59 this time, but the years have weighed more heavily on him than on me. So why should I feel anything other than an appreciation for the years I have had?

The process of aging is difficult for us to comprehend. North Americans like to control their destiny. We have built a society (both in Canada and in the United States) on controlling our fate. But you can’t control time. Day by day, year by year, time moves on. We say that age is only a state of mind; but the years continue to move, whatever one feels. Your state of mind may help you feel better about it, but it does not stop the process – or even slow it down.

I suspect that the particular piece of “60” that I need to come to terms with is precisely this remorseless march of days. Since you cannot stop or slow (or speed up or otherwise change) the movement of time, one choice remains: to embrace it.

I haven’t gotten there yet. I played my first 6-on-6 soccer game the week after my birthday – and scored my first goal as a 60-year old. (I made sure that the goalie, someone I’ve played against often enough, heard about that afterwards!) I am still climbing the stairs to the seminary. I am grateful, truly grateful, for health and strength, for the ability to keep reading and processing and working in my professional field. I want to embrace my age.

But the struggle remains. I wish sometimes that I could go back to 40 and stay there – at least physically. I have no desire to re-visit earlier stages of life generally. Once was enough. But our senses live within our physical body, and the body is what ages. My inner self still sometimes feels like the 15-year old who first moved from southern Africa to Pennsylvania, or the 20-year old at Messiah College, or any of the other stages between then and now. But the body ages, and the struggle remains.

If anyone can solve the life-cycle for me, let me know; but for now I continue to thank God for the health I have, the years he has given me, and the days ahead.