Friday, July 20, 2007
Carlisle Comments On turning sixty
Some time this fall, I will "turn sixty," whatever that might mean. I am not sure exactly what I am supposed to think or feel about this supposedly momentous event. At worst it is a time to look ahead with a rearview mirror and see if I stumble more, hear less, fall asleep in my book more quickly — in short, am I aging appropriately or am I in the same hurry-up mode that I have always been and is my propensity for attention-deficit disorderliness just ramping up? At best it is a time to look backward in anticipation and wonder at all the places I have been and all those I have yet to go.
Those places may or may not be geographical. Those that are may be more likely to be visited than the ones that are not. For instance, it is far more likely that I will go fishing in Newfoundland than write the children's book that is always kicking around somewhere in my subconscious. And what if neither transpires? Am I any the poorer for having done something else? Twelve years of two Thursday nights per month on the Conservation Commission probably could not have been better spent, but when I think I have done so since I was 48, well, that is a lot of Thursdays! Maybe I was able to contribute something worthwhile to the town and maybe not. My father would have been pleased, and maybe I would be redeemed for the times when I was a bit of a challenge.
I think that turning 60 is a moment to appreciate the time that I have been able to share with or participate in the world at large and some really wonderful people. It is also a time to look back on some good fortune and incredibly good luck. I was able to travel, despite restrictions, to isolated corners of the world, safely, in a time when trust was the common currency between peoples. To have been alive when one's word was one's bond and reflect on how the world has changed is quite amazing. Some of the communities I was in or near have vanished as have lifestyles and traditions — all swallowed up in the sweep to modernity or destroyed in the teak forests of Asia.
I recently was asked to write a short piece for a friend's 90th birthday, a memory of how her life was lived and reflected in mine. It brought back memories of a truly joyous time when one could sleep in pastures beside the road and likely be invited in for breakfast if we helped with chores. It was a time when being alive and in community was a community service in and of itself. It was a time when being a little odd was more than tolerated, it was celebrated. As children, we would pick up the few groceries for the hermit that lived in the woods on the other side of our hill. He never invited us in to his shack but we knew that we were keeping Mr. Spinney alive a little longer. There was a place for everyone and their unique qualities were either appreciated or dealt with. Poverty was not having enough to eat, not enough to spend.
So what is to be made of such good fortune? I cannot give it to my children. I can show them the way and give them the tools, but they must seek it for themselves. Their opportunities for some of my good fortune are limited, however, by the policies and short-sightedness of today's world leaders — religious and secular. Our cultural inabilities to let bygones be bygones, to forgive and forget, to tolerate idiosyncrasy and difference today make living in the world at large quite difficult. I sometimes feel that we have all crawled into our beds and pulled our blankets up over our heads, afraid to look out, to trust in ourselves and those around us.
For me, turning 60 is quite exciting and a time for optimism. Having cleared the nest and not suffered from hot-red-sportster syndrome, I am ready for new adventure. I have begun to achieve some of the dreams I had as a young man looking ahead at an uncertain future. All of my children are well and settling into lives of their own, I am happily married, my business is successful at the moment. It is time to move on to a new youthfulness that perhaps recognizes that there is a 20-year instead of a 40- year horizon. I do not know what that will be. But contemplating risk instead of retiring is a heck of a lot more fun!
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito