As I approach my 50th birthday in twenty-four days, my brother is awaiting his second child. This year my youngest child will be twenty-nine. My eldest adopted child just turned forty-one. My birth mother died at the age I’ll be in July. For some unknown reason, this birthday is a big deal to me. The others just haven’t been this weighty.
I remember vividly being a young father in some ways. In others, it seems like a long, long time ago. With my granddaughter turning sixteen in September and driving a car now, I realize that my days of active, day-to-day parenthood are far behind me in my lifetime’s rear view mirror.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy about where I am. I’m married to a wonderful man and have a sweet, little dog. I see my grandchildren every so often and my children call or write to me regularly. I have no complaints. My work is good and I am loved. I have everything a person needs to be truly happy, and fortunately, I am.
The thing is, the poignancy of the passing time is remarkable to me right now. On that day in March 1976, when my first birth child was born, I never thought I’d get here so fast and so early. Today, I’m forty-nine years old and I’m at a life place at which most people arrive usually when their fifty-five or sixty-years-old.
All this hyperbole about fifty being the new thirty is ridiculous to me. In my life, fifty is the new sixty-five. That patronizing language is used by people who either didn’t have their first child until they were thirty-five, have pawned their offspring on nannies and boarding schools for them to rear, or don’t have children at all. For those of us who have walked our children and grandchildren to school, and those of us who have dealt with losing a son to miscarriage and a daughter’s cancer, and those of us whose entire nuclear family of origin has passed away from suicide, pancreatic cancer and the consequences of alcoholism, well, for us, fifty is not the new thirty. For those of us who have paid attention to the changes and the sameness of last eleven Presidents of the United States, and those of us who have watched everything from the assassination of a beloved president to the hanging of an Iraqi dictator, and for those of us who watched our hair turn gray and our skin develop little spots on our hands, fifty is not the new thirty.
Yes, we’re living longer. My uncle is 102-years-old, for goodness sake. Yes, we have more technology and access to information than at any other time in history. Yes, our country is 233-years-old, and yes, I’ll probably be around another forty years, God willing.
For today, however, I’m looking back and seeing the long road on which I’ve traveled and marvelling that I got this far. For me, it’s a miracle. With several great-grandparents who died at thirty-four, a birth father who had multiple bypass heart surgery in his mid-fifties and myself having a heart attack and two strokes, I’m grateful for the journey I’ve had so far and the wonderful people with whom I’ve sojourned. God knows it could have been very different.
I understand that in the big scheme of things, fifty-years-old isn’t “old,” but it is a milestone, and as I take stock of my life thus far, I am in awe of what has happened in these 18,214 days of my life. And, yes, my precious and vibrant friends, it is poignant to me.
To writers, especially new ones, it will come as no surprise to hear that taking on the task of writing a novel length work is daunting, at best. When one is writing a memoir, it is all the more challenging because one must balance their research, as personal as it is, with the emotional ramifacations of delving into the deepest recesses of one’s heart.
I would love to blithely say, “It’s just a book, so why worry?” It would be a perfect way of distancing myself from the material; however, I know better.
As a music director, when I’m training singers for their roles, I always tell them that if the veracity of their words and phrasing are not there, the audience will know. They always know.
It’s the same way with writing. If there is any subterfuge, insincerity or gimmicks, the reader will know. That holds especially true for one’s family when the subject is their history, as well as one’s own.
So, here I am, excited at the prospect of leaving a written legacy for my family about being an adoptee who finds his birth family and, thereafter, begins his genealogical journey toward understanding his complete life more fully, while recognizing how his journey is impacting others around him, as well. Yet, the intimacy is very intense and can, at times, stop me in my tracks.
As my mother often told me, I must continue to put one foot in front of the other and keep trudging down my path, no matter what.
That, my friends, is exactly what I intend to do.
There are times in life when things are backwards. We are out in the world with friends, colleagues and acquaintances who value us as people and professionals. Then, we come home and the person with whom we’ve chosen to make a life sees you in a completely different light; a light that is dim and grey, full of shadows and haze. There are few welcoming smiles or supportive words. Both hearts are slowly, but clearly, closing inch by inch.
Here is a sample of our routine.
“I just got an invitation to write a bio article for a wonderful writer. Isn’t that great?”
“Is she going to pay you?”
“She’s going to take me to lunch.”
“Then, it’s not all that great, is it?”
It’s like that most of the time.
I’ve always believed that when one comes home, one is at the place where the best of life happens. My parents fought with vitriolic passion on a regular basis. They felt free to say the most caustic things to one another; yet, they seemed to love and respect one another for the most part. They worked together as a team to create a life for themselves and my brother and me.
It rarely feels like that for me in my home anymore. There was a time when that was true, but those days have long since seemed to slip away. Were we neglectful? Were we narcissistically focused on our own needs to the exclusion of the needs of our partner? Probably a bit of both, I suppose.
Are the issues repairable? I’m not sure. After a decade of life together, I wonder what I would be fighting to repair? More of the same? If that’s the case, I don’t think that would be my best bet.
The challenge, of course, is how to make a life with someone I don’t trust with my heart anymore?
Decisions are going to have to be made because there is no way I can continue with things the way they are going. These decisions, though, are hard. Really, really hard.
This old dog is perhaps learning some new tricks when it comes to perception of life. A realization has appeared about how I have seen my life and the lives of those around me.
Endings have been so difficult for me for my entire life. They have caused me such anguish, and I know these transitions affect others in similar ways. They live with those of us who are burdened with our sadness like albatrosses around our necks.
I spoke with my Aunt Mary today. She recently turned ninety years old in October. After nine decades, with all her friends dying around her and her awareness of her own end approaching, she continues to look toward tomorrow. Certainly, she remembers her past and is troubled with sadness over those who have gone before her; however, she demands her tomorrows in a way that others of her age seem to do. Perhaps, it is because she necessarily has fewer tomorrows than those of us at fifty, or so we think, that she awakens with a new vibrancy at the dawn.
In the late night of her life, she continues to see her mornings. I love that about Aunt Mary. Maybe someday, I will love my mornings in the same way. It may be beginning now and that would be a good thing.
I can’t help but wonder what my older grandchildren, who are now in their teens and pre-teens, are learning from how I live my life. I’m not that old, but still I am their grandfather and, as such, am modeling generational life to them. They are learning how to age from me and their other grandparents.
Are we sadly struggling with each day? Are we lifting ourselves from our beds ready for a new adventure? I must ask them at some point soon how they are perceiving us, their elders and ancestors.
I saw a picture of myself today at a concert by a band that one of my former students is in. I saw a man who is certainly older, but still vibrant and ready. It made me so happy.
The time has come for me to take a page out of my beloved Aunt Mary’s Handbook of Life and dance and sing and laugh and visit and share as though I won’t be alive forever. The truth is, I won’t be. After a heart attack, two strokes, pre-diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure and early emphysema, I know I won’t be here forever. I may not even make it to Aunt Mary’s age.
My faith and my life experience has taught me that I can, however, live a life of joy and truth, intimacy and vibrancy for every minute I am here. All I need do is commit to the choice. Of course, I grieve for those who have gone before me, which has included all of my direct-line ancestors except for one, my birth-father. Even my younger brother has departed before me. But, these loving people can also be reminders of my mortality and how important it is to live and love my life with my eyes, hands, heart and spirit wide open.
What a great tribute to my deceased family and a grand legacy to those who are following my generational path if I do so.
There is a moment when I first sit at my desk when I simply don’t know where to start. Should I write? If so, what should I write? Sure, the e-mail thing is easy, because that’s the only way to keep my business moving; however, after that, then what?
There are some days when all I want to do is go back to bed.
Perhaps it has something to do with the state of the economy or the changes in our social perceptions. Everything is in flux. We are, as a society, making huge strides and, yet, there are areas in which we are still stagnant.
We still see each other as a color first. We still make an evaluation of another’s value by what they have acquired. We continue to protect what we have in the fear that we will not have enough instead of seeing that in the light of truth and generosity of spirit, we all have enough, always.
I’m certain that the hurdles I face as I sit at my desk are partly due to these concerns. The other part, of course, is that I’d rather be in bed asleep.