I’ve got another birthday coming up soon, year 53, which I’ll mark in early November. It would be easy to comfort myself in the reassurance that I’m now just “middle aged” but I’ve never been a fan of that ambiguous, squishy phrase which claims that the “middle” of life is between 40 and 60. To me “middle” means just that middle: mid-point, half-way, the exact time between that which was and that which will be.
So if I really were “middle aged” that means I’ll be on this earth ‘til I’m 106! Who knows? That might happen. None of us knows when life will end. I do have a 99 year old grandfather who is still going strong, lives on his own, watches “Jeopardy” on TV every night and even knows most of the answers. I hope I have his genes.
But “middle” aged? Not so much. That train’s left the station. If I go by the average life expectancy of an American male, as reported by the Social Security Administration, statistically speaking I’ve got 29 and a half years left, after having lived 52 years, 51 weeks and one day of life as of today. I’m 64 percent done, 36 percent to go. If were a baseball player I’d be batting in the top of the sixth inning with one out. A golfer I’d be strolling up to 12th hole. A day on the calendar, I’m August 23rd, warm days still hanging on, but nights now cooling down with autumn just around the corner.
The real truth? At 53 I’m now “over the hill”: the point at which I’ve scaled the summit and am now in the final third of my life story. The journey is still so beautiful, the hike is still pretty challenging but the majority of life is behind me and so the question is: how do I deal with this reality? Accept or not accept just where I find myself on the hill called human life?
Human age and aging is a funny thing. When young our days seem to unfold so slowly. Then it takes so darn long to get to the next birthday, or to Christmas morning, to be big enough, old enough to take off the training wheels, to stay up or out late, to drive a car, to drink, to finally be on our own. Then we look up at that big hill and wonder if we’ll ever make it to the top. Remember?
And then we do reach the summit and before we know it, the journey downward commences and then life kind of flies by. I look in the mirror now and see a beard that’s now gone all white—when did Santa Claus show up in my bathroom? The music on the radio is no longer familiar, the “hip” jeans no longer fit, not by a long shot, and the years seem to pile up so quickly. Wasn’t I just 30? 40? That kid I dropped off at college? I can still feel their tiny hand in mine on the day I walked them into their pre-school classroom for the first time. Remember?
This tension of aging always comes to us in one God given truth. We are created by God with infinite spirits yet finite bodies. Spirits which soar anchored within containers which have an absolute expiration date. Souls inside of us which never seem to change but shells outside which weather and wrinkle and wear down. “Over the hill”….
Last week I reunited with a group of longtime clergy friends. Each year for the past twenty years, three times every year, we reunite for twenty four hour retreats. In two decades we’ve climbed some very big hills together. Three marriages, one divorce, one adoption, ten births, and eighteen job changes. Caring for aging parents. Saying goodbye to Mom or Dad one last time. Health scares. Churches: dying or growing or both, often very fast. We’ve morphed from young firebrands seeking radical change to seasoned veterans sometimes fearing change.
Would I go back and change that climb up the hill? Not one bit. I’m where I’m at, now over the hill, and I’m liking it, some days actually loving it.
How about you? Where are you at on the hill called human life? A quarter of the way along on the trail, boots laced up tight, sailing upwards? Half way up, taking a short rest perhaps? On the peak and taking in an amazing vista? Or starting down on the other side, over that hill?
The hill is non-negotiable. But how we hike it—that’s up to each of us. As the songwriter James Taylor wrote, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time. Any fool can do it. There ain't nothing to it. Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill. But since we're on our way down we might as well enjoy the ride.”
See you on the trail.