On turning 60
Two weeks ago I reached another decennial milestone in my life when I turned sixty. A few friends have asked me how it feels, and my response has always been that it is more sobering than other such mileposts -- very different from arriving at age 30, 40, or even 50. For one thing, none of those birthdays seems all that long ago, as if time somehow accelerates as I -- and we -- grow older. But more sobering still is the constant and ever-growing awareness of my own mortality. I am not a young man anymore, and never will be young again; and even though I have always been blessed with abundant good health, even that is no longer quite as good as it used to be. That is to be expected with advancing age, of course, and I am not complaining, but along with the calendar, the arthritis that set in about ten years ago and the weight issues that bedevil me today serve as gentle reminders that my mortal life is now entering the home stretch. I was born in 1953, and a person my age at that time would have been born in 1893. And nobody born in 1893 -- not a single person anywhere in the world -- remains alive today.
I am highly introspective by nature and given to frequent and deep reflections about the past. A look at the actuarial tables suffices to remind me that the story of my life has by now mostly been written, and I am painfully aware that mine has, without question, been a checkered and unsettled journey. I know that I have failed far more often than I have succeeded in life, and this recognition has weighed heavily on my mind, especially in recent years. I often say to friends, only half-jokingly, that being a lifelong teetotaler has probably been good for me, because I have made so many damn-fool mistakes while cold sober that I shudder to imagine what I might have done while under the influence of alcohol. Yet I also take some comfort from knowing that my heart has always been in the right place and I have consistently meant well, and that at least some of the issues I have wrestled with throughout my life could reasonably be expected to have resulted from the way I was raised. In addition, I decided at an early age that I wanted my life to be good and decent and purposeful, and along the way I developed and cultivated a love for things that were beautiful and noble and inspiring. I was already past fifty when, acting on those impulses, I took up photography as a serious hobby. I have always been an unusually late bloomer, and perhaps even now I have not yet fully bloomed.
Still, I wonder. I believe in God and an afterlife and a Last Judgment, but have never quite been convinced that He is really infinitely merciful, kind, and understanding. That, too, is perhaps because of the way I was raised; our feelings about God are often influenced by our feelings about our parents. The most influential person in my life, by far, was my cruel and abusive mother, who never made any secret of the fact that she despised me and regarded me as a monstrous burden. But what of God? When I appear before Him at the great and last day, what will I hear? A tongue-lashing over what I might and should have been? Or will He welcome me with open arms and the assurance that my feeble and often-frustrated efforts really were the best that could be expected of me under the circumstances, and that this is enough for Him? The scriptures are replete with references to love and mercy, but also to anger, wrath, and vengeance, and I wonder which of those I can expect. Perhaps this bit of insight and knowledge is something still conspicuously lacking in my process of conversion, but I do pray every day now, and with considerable fervor, that notwithstanding the failure and pain and embarrassment of the past, I might at least be able to finish well. Perhaps in the end that will be all that really matters.
In the meantime, I accept the fact of my mortality and actually draw some comfort from the knowledge that the end of my odyssey is now far nearer than its beginning, that I now have many more yesterdays than I have tomorrows. I feel tired and drained and depressed most of the time now, and know that much of that is simply because I have grown weary of life itself, with its seemingly fruitless struggles and relentless difficulty and the concomitant sense that at this point I have little else to look forward to except more of the same. The Book of Mormon refers to death as being part of "the merciful plan of the great Creator," and the burdens of life in general and advancing age in particular now make it easier for me to see why and how this is so.
But life should consist of more than awaiting the inevitable summons, so I will continue trying to make the best of it. Last week I purchased a new bicycle when I was told, not unexpectedly, that my old one, bought by me at a bike shop in Provo way back in 1984 and last ridden six years ago, was unrepairable. I never buy expensive items on impulse, and this was something I had been considering for a long time, finally deciding that the bike was a necessary investment in my health and sense of well-being. My wife, to her credit, agreed with this assessment, so I dipped into our scarce financial resources and plunked down $500.00 for the bike and its accessories. With the sole exception of dancing, which I no longer do, bicycling has been the most therapeutic activity I have ever engaged in. I have resumed it more in the hope of improving the overall quality of my life than in lengthening its duration, and while I do not expect to be riding this bicycle as long as I did the one it replaces, perhaps I should not rule out that possibility. I rode the old one for a total of 19 seasons, not counting the ten years or so that it spent in a storage unit or in our garage. If I am still going strong after 19 more seasons, the new bike will be at least part of the reason.