Looking Back…

John

Each December 14th… I celebrate another birthday… Many times I have been asked what it is like to reach this age… Here are my thoughts:

First, the alternative to growing old… is dying young… never an attractive choice to me…
I feel so blessed… to have lived long enough… to often be the oldest person in the room… to have the wrinkles… produced by years of smiles and laughter… and the frowns of sorrow and disappointment recorded comfortably on my face… Yes, I wonder who that old guy is… the one I see in my bathroom mirror each morning… But being able to see that image is so much better… than the realization that many others I have known… died… before they could grow comfortable in their own wrinkled skins… It was especially sad when some grew old… even before they grew up…
I now find it is easier to say what I think… because I care less about criticism from other people… I censor what I say less often… and I don’t question myself as much anymore… I’ve granted myself the right to be wrong sometimes… to speak my mind no matter what… to laugh at my mistakes… and to realize that it is not my job to change the world… or what anyone else thinks… I rely on the kindness of others to pretend I am making sense… even when I may not be…
I am free to sing along to those tunes of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s I heard when I was young… I still know the words… I still remember when movies were 20 cents… gas just 21 cents a gallon… a loaf of bread was a dime…a dozen eggs just 64 cents… A time when my neighborhood was filled with people I knew… and neighbors looked out for each other… which made it safe on the streets for us kids… When respect for others was a practice not just a promise… I’ve come to believe… even if irrationally… for me those were the good old days…
I am also free to shed a tear over lost opportunities… lost friendships… and lost loves… because shedding tears does not define my manhood… my character and integrity are much better measures… I no longer trouble myself when life changes direction on me… there are few things that are meant to last forever anyway… I know now that I will never let the child in me die… and I accept that God shakes things up… when He wants me to see life with new eyes…
I now understand that not everything I have learned… nor every experience I have had… is worth remembering… but I have no trouble remembering the important things… Best of all…I will always remember the thousands of happy moments I have shared with people I loved…
As I’ve aged… I’ve become kinder to myself… and to others… I have become my own best friend… I have learned to tell quickly… the good from the bad… the right from the wrong and I have finally come to a place where I do not “suffer fools easily…” and I place too much value on the real friendships I have made… to regret any not made… I know that I will never understand the complaints I hear… from too many people… about too many other people… We all judge each other too often and too harshly sometimes… I feel blessed that my very best friends… without fail have always been fantastic men and women… and I have been doubly blessed… to have met and loved… the most wonderful, loving, special women …
Over the years… my heart has been broken at times… how could it not be when evil sometimes seemed to have won the day… when fairness and justice seemed to have gotten lost… when someone I loved suffered… or when my children hurt for some reason… When I reflect on my life as a parent and friend… I realize I could have done so much better… especially when I disappointed someone I loved… or when a heartfelt love… ended… But broken hearts… are what give us strength… and understanding… and compassion… A heart never broken has been kept in isolation… it is sterile… and unused and has never really known the joy of having loved… or of being loved…
The loss of loved ones that comes with living a long life… is the hardest part of getting older… It is difficult to overcome the feeling… that you are being left behind by your generation… The loss of friends and family are among the things that hurt the most… but you learn to miss them and still go on… you also begin to realize the incredible contribution… they have all made to who you are… parents and siblings… friends and associates… and you thank God for placing them in your life… even if only for a time…
So, if you are interested… I embrace the blessing of getting older… I pray that my mistakes have been… or will be forgiven… and that the trajectory of my life has been a good one… I pretty much like the person I am… though I am still working on some things… I know I am not going to live forever… but while I am here… I will not waste time regretting what might have been… or worrying too much… about what might be…I will approach each new waypoint like this birthday… with the excitement of a new opportunity to love life… one still full of the potential for a grand adventure… or a new challenge to my thinking… Finally, each morning when I arise… I will ignore the tweaks and twinges in my joints… and remember to thank God… first for the beautiful life He has given me so far… and for the generous gift… of another day…

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