Monday, January 20, 2014

Wild rides and reading glasses

Photo by Jenn Vargas via Flickr
I'm not quite sure how this happened. Oh, I know the science about everything aging and everything tending towards entropy and decay, but really, wasn't I going to stay young forever? It's strange how in your teens, your twenties and even still your thirties it SEEMS as if you will be young forever. Mid-life is that thing you look around and see other people doing, but somehow it is a distant speck on your own horizon, something to be staved off with healthy living and plenty of sleep.

And then one day you wake up and realize "This is it. I am officially on the downhill slide to fifty." You reach for your reading glasses to study the restaurant menu and think about how just a year ago you sat at dinner with your bosses and their wives and how they all pulled out their reading glasses at the same moment and chuckled together while you and your husband smiled at how funny the fifty-year-olds were. But here you are a year later, member of the reading glasses tribe, trying to figure out how to adjust to life with them, certain you are never going to see anything clearly again. (Not that it's a bad thing. You can still pretend you're young if you can't see the grey hairs and wrinkles, right?)

It is sometimes easy to say "Well, this is it. My life is over. I have nothing to offer these young whipper-snappers so hand me my cane and get off my lawn." It's tempting to think that what we've experienced so far is the sum of all we are and all we ever will be. And if you didn't get to do it all yet? The novel unwritten, the poems unpublished, the friendships not grown strong and sweet with wine in the garden on a summer evening or coffee by the fire in the wintertime? All of those trips not taken and the knowledge not learned? It's sad to think that none of that may ever happen.

And yet...

James Michner published his first book when he was 40.

Toni Morrison was 40 and a single mother when she published The Bluest Eye.

Alex Haley published Roots, his first novel, when he was 55.

Sue Monk Kidd was 54 when The Secret Life of Bees was published.

Laura Ingalls Wilder? 65 years old when the first Little House book was published.

Mary Delany began creating the botanical collages for which she is most well known when she was 72, going on to make over 1,000 of them.

Grandma Moses was 76 when she began painting.

Dr. Seuss was in his forties when he began successfully writing children's books.

Julia Child didn't enter cooking school until age 36. (She was a spy before that. Really.)

Morgan Freeman's first major Hollywood role came when he was 52.

Rodney Dangerfield was in his forties when he began his comedy career (after being unsuccessful and quitting in his twenties).

Harland Sanders (that's the Colonel, ya'll) started cooking chicken at age 40 and didn't sell his first franchise until he was 65.

And the list could go on, not only with those who started later, but with those who struggled and tried and failed and tried again, or who didn't begin to reach their full potential until the years spun past forty and on into the later decades.

I think we forget that sometimes when we are surrounded with images of the young, the fresh-faced and successful. We get used to the 'over the hill' jokes and the black balloons at forty and we let the culture subtly tell us that this is it, maybe it's all over until you hit those retirement years and can hang out on your sailboat. But the in-between? It's a slow downhill plod to 65.

But what if it isn't? What if we went over the hill only it wasn't a hill but just the downward swoop of the roller-coaster and it's all just one grand and wild ride that's taking us up and down and sideways and sometimes a little bit shaken up but always, always moving forward? And what if we sat up in our seats, throwing our hands in the air, laughing into the wind rushing by and enjoyed the ride?

Let's don those reading glasses with pride as we open our books and read into the next chapters of our life, learning, growing, doing, and becoming...always, always becoming until our eyes close on that very last day. Because this is what life is, every moment of it; one long ride of becoming, one long learning, one long growing. And those decade markers? They're just the waypoints to mark our journey, never the end of the ride.

Photo by Dave Campbell via Flickr

Monday, January 6, 2014

One Word 365 - 2014 edition

I stole my word from my pastor. Totally ripped it right out of his Advent series and plunked it down into my blog like it belonged to me. I didn't mean to do it, I was going to pick a nice simple word like 'grace'. But as I sat down to write about it nothing was coming together. My ramblings were bland, and although it is a perfectly lovely word 'grace' just wasn't doing it for me. So I walked away to do some journaling about what was really going on in my mind and just like that my word fell out onto paper and said "Hi! Here I am, hold onto your hat because it's going to be a wild year!"

To back up a bit, One Word 365 is a challenge that has been going on for several years. You pick a word (or a word picks you) that you want to focus on for the year. It's a commitment to being intentional in living out that word. Last year the word that seemed to be begging for my attention was 'love'. I'm not certain that I did the greatest job in living it out (and ok, before the year was even a quarter over I'd forgotten that I picked it) but it is still interesting to look back over my year and see the strands of love weaving their way through it.

So this year as I started seeing the blogs pop up with their 'one word' for 2014 I started thinking about what my word would be. And finally I said "OK, I'll pick grace, because I need to learn to extend grace to some people." Grace is a perfectly great word for an introvert to pick, because it is something I can do all in my head, if I want to. I don't really have to actually speak with anyone to extend grace to them, I can just sail by with my head held high thinking "Yeah, you're a jerk but I extend my oh-so-benevolent grace to you." Because sometimes I can be a bit of a jerk like that. That's also probably not what grace really means, because I am pretty sure that real grace descends from on high and enters into the muck of the needy, getting itself more than a little dirty in the process.

Which brings me to my word, the word that I stole. Because yesterday our pastor finished up his Advent series on Being Present with a sermon on being present in friendships. And then in the afternoon I read this post about love showing up. This morning the two came together in one great big conviction and my word for 2014 became 'Presence.' Being present in the lives of those around me. Even when it hurts. Even when they don't reciprocate. Even when I think I have nothing to offer.

I want my easy grace word back. The one that lets me be the wronged party taking the high road. Not a word like 'Presence' that asks so much more from me. Presence means that sometimes I'M going to be the one to fail someone royally by not being present for them. Presence quite frankly makes me want to stomp my feet like a nine-year-old and proclaim "How come I have to do ALL the work around here?" Presence shines its light on my most vulnerable areas and asks me to give them up. And I'm sorry because there's really no other way to say scares the shit out of me.

So here I am, standing on the brink of 2014, ready (or not) to jump into this wild ride. Ready to be present for those around me. Ready to be love showing up whenever, wherever, however I'm needed.