I’ve read that if there is a question when you die, it’s probably this: Did you live fully and love well? In my sixties, I am more taken than ever by what really should be for me, a daily inquiry. There is an arc to life that I feel I have crested, but not yet completed. Is the trajectory down hill as potentially invigorating and vitalizing as the strong trajectory up? Today, I would have to answer yes, but it is a different yes than the one I might have given twenty-five years ago.
Twenty-five years ago, tennis was my game. I loved the feeling of getting up early and hitting for an hour before work. I loved the cute little tennis outfits. It was a vibrant game and it made me feel vital. But as nature sometimes compels, that particular sport was finite in my life. A scoliotic back and disc degeneration saw to it. Those two physical messengers had their way with me. Eventually I would stop playing tennis, downhill skiing, or any type of aerobics where my feet hit the ground and my back took a pounding. So, what was left? Walking.
Walking is an activity that nurtures aliveness. I have learned to walk all year-long and in all conditions. I walk in the spring and marvel at the wild flowers that fill the meadows and mountainsides. I walk in the summer and stop to take sips of cool water and breath in the offerings of the panorama. In the fall, I delight in the changing of leaves. And of course, the great winter snow hike has become one of my favorites, because in my way of seeing, there is nothing quite as joyful as watching my dog romp through snow, and nothing quite as exquisite as the lone grey heron standing on the ice, keeping watch over the frozen water.
Being in my sixties has given me a perspective of the grace contained within the conflict and challenges of life. Cocky thirties made me think I could do life without such things, but I realize now that I would not have wanted to. There is a comfort in knowing that your marriage is so solid and committed that in spite of disagreements, snarls and frustrations, there was never an instance where you didn’t eventually sit down and work it out, thereby strengthening the union.
As for failure, you can put up all the posters of “Failure is Not an Option” that you want, and good luck with that! I have failed many times. Sometimes I have beat myself up for those moments, wrapping the failure around me like a scarlet letter. Failures though, have propelled me forward in business, friendships and making peace with the limited, finite human being that I am, albeit with an infinite and loving soul. Failure has taught me that God loves me in every moment. Failure is, as Billie Jean King once said, “only research.”
There was a time in my fifties that I mourned the loss of youth and its beauty. I don’t know a woman (if they’re honest) who hasn’t stood in front of a mirror and gently pulled the skin of her face back to remind her of a time that her face was not headed south…and then entertained for a moment some magic surgery that would restore it all, if only for a while longer. In the blink of an eye, the world seems as though it is no longer yours, but belongs to women who still wear high-heels and know their way around an i-phone. But the grief of that passing, was kind and swift and I have started to grow comfortable with the sags of my face. The important things are that I stand tall and straight and that I walk. I am learning that the geese that fly overhead sing their songs for me. I have begun to understand that the fox that trots across the open field and stops to look at me with curiosity can fill me with wonder. In short, I have slowed down enough to take in the sights and sounds of the natural world, letting it fill my heart and speak to me, and that makes me feel as though I am living fully. I know that I can and will walk until the end. When Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night,” I believe that he was talking about living until you squeeze out the last drop from it.
I still stress too easily. I give in to the sorrows. But even those things, when observed with clear eyes and distance show me that they have added texture to a journey that keeps edging me toward the meaning and purpose of being human. Stress is just a wake up call to stop and breath deeply, go read People Magazine and take a hot bath. Stop and realize that nothing is so important that it should disturb your health or your peace of mind. That’s the tough one—we all make things too important and over identify with that importance. It’s a killer. As for sorrows, a little sorrow in life can break open the heart to the suffering of a world that needs you to reach out. Too much sorrow is like indulging a seductress that will take you somewhere you don’t really want to go.
Cycles of the season, cycles of age, all of it meant to be. The sixties are not so bad. In a way, I feel like I am doing my best work. I finally have some perspective on life and am now looking forward to what my seventies might bring. I love to write my thoughts and then go walk in the early hours of the day. And as Irenaeus said; “The Glory of God is man fully alive.” Did you live fully? Did you love well? Is it ever to late to take those questions to heart and count the blessings and the joys of waking up and doing the day one more time–fully alive?