Turning 30 was the hardest aging transition of my life so far. I had false notions of what I would do by 30, I saw the young team of advisors working for President-Elect Clinton and I wondered “why not me?” While these young men were shaping the 90’s as we know them I was in rural Nova Scotia typing out my bulletins on an old typewriter. I had big dreams and they seemed frustrated. I compared myself to other people my age and felt I was being left behind. Turning 30 was hard, thought I expected and expect no sympathy.
I was at a bookstore yesterday and came across a new book by Globe and Mail feature writer Ian Brown titled, “60”. I am a big fan of Brown’s work, in particular the Globe articles where he chronicles the ideas and work of Jean Vanier and the correspondence he included in the Globe between he and Vanier on the topic of what it means to be human, faith, and brokenness. Brown has written about raising a son with a rare disability and other existential challenges of the human condition. While I loathe the aging books that suggest we are all geniuses, “powerful beyond measure” and ask us to “unlock the hidden you” I do enjoy listening to bright, creative and funny authors like Brown wrestle with aging. As a Minister who participates in countless funerals death is never far from my mind. Living with hope while being aware of death seems to me the essence of the period of life I now experience at 53.
In the Bible there are many age specific reflections by men (as per usual what we find in our culture are male experiences) who wrestle with the hopeful younger years full of promise (David), the challenging middle years where a sense of unfairness is never far from the surface (Job) and those latter years when we look back and rationalize who and what we were (Paul in prison). I find all of these stages of life quite fascinating.
At 53 I do not feel resentful or disappointed, nor am I as impatient as I was only a few years ago. Instead I feel two conflicting things; anxiety that I am doing enough to provide for my family and at ease with where I find myself today. Although many of my colleagues seem to walk in a strange bubble of denial (“the church will always be there”) I see churches closing at an alarming rate and imagine a future where there is no more staffing or building for any of our mainline denominations. From a purely self-interested point of view that has huge implications for my future, not to mention my family as I will retire in 8 years. From the point of view of the church I wonder how people who have invested themselves in the identity and function of church will handle this transition. As an example we as a denomination are currently wrestling with minor, survival type changes around the margins and the openness to those changes seems very limited.
On the other hand I feel strangely as peace with my vocation, the work I am doing, the people I know. I have no anxiety about where I ought to be, what work I ought to have, or what I ought to have accomplished. That seems to have vanished. I look forward to my work (except meetings) and find it highly stimulating and satisfying (except meetings). Brown focuses a lot on the physical part of aging, not just the existential questions. I am not sure if it is all the walking I do, my good genes or the fact I am 53 and not 60 but I don’t feel that sense that my body is letting my down or becoming a burden to me. I am ugly, wrinkled and grey but I have no belly, am fit for a man my age (and I don’t belong to a gym) and I feel healthy. My lifestyle leaves many shaking their heads; up at 6 am, in bed at 2 am, 3 jobs, 6 cups of coffee a day, working from 8 am to 8 pm most days, then back at work from 10 pm to midnight after my women-folk have gone to sleep. I do reserve midnight to 2 am for my own enjoyment of readings, watching interview programs and following sports and politics. But strangely it works for me. I feel well and happy, despite the anxiety of economic plans for retirement (my financial advisor laughs at me and tells me I am an economic neurotic. But he is in his 30’s!).
Aging. We are all going to die. But we are alive for now. The possibilities are not endless but they are real and they do offer the chance to be present to something timeless and true.