I turned 60 in March, and let me tell you, not only was I not happy about it, but this one was a cliff dive. Birthdays and aging have never bothered me. When I turned 30, 40, 50 none of those milestones fazed me. This one sucker punched me. It was a plummet. There was just something about the Big 6-0 that had a percussive and walloping effect on me.
In April, I visited Savvy Daughter in Virginia and tried to explain to her some of my coming-of-age existential angst. She and I both work professionally with words so, under immense pressure, I had to find the perfect mot juste that would sum up my concerns.
Falling far short of my profession’s expectations, the word I settled on was LACK. Dissected and parsed, Lack in my world comes down to this:
1. Lack of Time. I recently tore my meniscus, and my knee blew up like a beach ball, sending stabbing pains up and down my leg. This also contributed to my packing on a couple extra lbs due to fewer trips to the gym. And both of the above issues contributed to my vehement conviction that I only had a few years/months/days left on the planet. What if there simply wasn’t enough time left to fulfill my dreams and ambitions?
2. Lack of Talent. I hadn’t published a novel in quite a few years (20 to be exact). And, while I’d ventured somewhat successfully into other freelance writing arenas, I didn’t have that adrenaline rush of fat royalty checks, frenzied editorial teleconferences, and a mailbox overflowing with letters from adoring fans (all six of them). What if, it turns out, I was a washed-up, has-been?
3. Lack of Motivation. I mean, I should retire, right? Isn’t this supposed to be the start of that golden age of recreation and rest, of endless days of cruise ships and naps? (It’s frightening, but Florida intercoastal canals, mobile villages, and shuffleboarding come to mind.) The problem with my lack of motivation, I have astutely surmised, is that I’ve found life too comfortable. The kids are grown. The bills are paid. What if the only thing that drove my profitable career was Hunger?
Savvy Daughter didn’t buy into my pity party. Instead, she gave me a challenge. She, by the way, is big into Goals, Five Year Plans, Life Lists, and all that. She is, to put it succintly, a list maker. As anal retentive as that may sound, she gets the job done.
So, here was her challenge to me:
“If I could fast forward 5 years, where would I be and what would I be doing? What changes would people see in me?”
At first those questions didn’t seem all that tough. Five years from now, I can see myself living on an island in the Mediterranean. I’ll be playing with all the gold I traded for worthless corporate stock in the spasmodic summer of 2011. And, of course, I’ll be drinking wine.
The changes people would see in me were that 1) I wasn’t here, since I was over there; 2) I was, as oppposed to everyone else in this pathetic global economy, now disgustingly rich; 3) I was, because of those ubiquitous and fertile vineyards surrounding the sea, probably inebriated.
Needless to say, I flunked The Challenge. So, I tried again. This time, the proposal required a less frivolous approach. What the question demanded was that I take a trowel and go subterranean.
When we commit to the hard work and deep digging of life excavation, we are sometimes surprised and a bit overwhelmed by what surfaces for a redo. I first had to ask myself…what is the shape of the story I am living? And how will it stretch from its present form? I know I’m a work under construction and that my best-laid plans and catchy little life lists will be chiseled and molded in ways I can’t predict or unerringly govern. (For a control freak like me, that’s a downright brutal lesson.) But, here are three of the top renovations that occurred to me:
1) I want to find the joy again in a morning’s work at my desk. It’s more than just that cliche of following my bliss. It’s taking something that I love to do and making it the remainder of my life’s endeavor. Or, as the author of Golf’s Sacred Journey wrote, “Find what you do well and perfect it.” (So, how many years, exactly, do I have left?)
2) I want to stop giving myself away purposelessly. I want to be involved in projects and causes that are forging real change in the world. The question I need to ask of every new proposition and calling that pops up in front of me daily should be this: Is it necessary?
3) I want to replace religion with faith. I want to just spend time with the Creator, to see and appreciate all that He has created for us and to be a witness to all that He is doing in the world. It’s come to my attention that here we are—we reach out to the God of the Universe, and the God of the Universe reaches out to us. And he says, in that quiet rush of wind, “Be still and know that I am God.” But, what I also hear is “Be still and Be Amazed.”
Donald Miller, one of my favorite Christian writers, says, “When you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.” Well, here I am, God. I’m ready to spend some quality time with you.
4) I want to stop looking “out there” for happiness, fulfillment, success, fun…well, you fill in the blank. I want to remember that the stuff that reaffirms life for me is right here. Right now.
As if Savvy Daughter’s challenge wasn’t enough to contemplate, the morning I was to fly back home, she flipped over to the current page on her desk’s quote calendar. It stared audaciously at me and spoke loudly and clearly…
“If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you be?”