XLI (reflections upon my 41st year)

41st birthday cakeToday is my forty-first birthday, and it feels… well, anti-climactic. There is absolutely nothing significant about turning 41.

Of course, my birthday falling on a weekday probably didn’t help. This morning I just got up, went to work, ate dinner, went to church, and now I type these words sprawled out on my bed.

Having eclipsed most age-related milestones, it would seem the only birthdays that still “mean something” will be when I surpass another decade. Turning 40, or 50, or 60, or 70, or 80… may be a big damn deal, but add a year and it’s suddenly anti-climax.

As a man gets older, his gaze turns more backwards than forwards. He ponders the value of what he’s done and the goals for his remaining years. Presumably that age is the midpoint of his life, when the years in front are exceeded by the years behind.

Forty-one is well past the age I could imagine being when I was a teenager. I have a vague memory that it was 35. Thirty-five seemed very old when I was 18. It was the frontier beyond which I could imagine nothing. Would I be married? Have kids? Would my particular creative genius finally be appreciated and celebrated? (The things that were important to me at that age are more than a little amusing in retrospect!) But alas, thirty-five years of age was an eternity as far as I was concerned… and now I’m six years past it. Whatever foresight I might have possessed in my younger age, imagining who I might be at 41 was well beyond my reckoning.

Highway 41Today is July 12th, 2017. I am 41-years-old. I am writing these words from the cool, quiet interiors of my darkened bedroom.

I have been married to Candace Daniels for almost 18 years. We have five children. From the other side of the house, I can hear their muted murmurs as bedtime draws near. My hair is more silver than black. I’ve been nursing an injured subscapularis muscle for more than a month now. I tire easier. Sometimes a fact or name remains elusive a moment too long. I feel my senses dulling ever so painfully subtle. From the vantage of my own perspective, I watch myself becoming more irascible and weary-minded.

But I still love to learn. I still remain utterly fascinated with the Universe. Each day I continue to polish my many rough edges and try to grow stronger in the many ways I am weak.

I’ve come to an understanding that there is almost never a good time to be an asshole. Even if you’re right… especially if you’re right. The slow blade penetrates the shield and a gentle tongue can break down walls.

Even if your ideas are incredibly good, there’s no excuse for treating other people badly. In fact, the adoption of your ideas is often directly proportional to how you treat others. I’ve seen huge resistance to good ideas simply because they were espoused by people who were jerks (not naming any names). A form of guilt by association I suppose.

If you feel like being an asshole to someone, then stop and ask yourself why. Do they really deserve it, or is there some other reason you are upset? Is there something deeper that needs uncovering? Maybe you feel rushed. While it may not seem like it, there is always more time than you realize. Perhaps the best reason to not be an asshole, aside from general human decency, is that you might be wrong someday. Whatever you feel is right, and justifies being an asshole to the other guy, might turn out be wrong. There might be more information that you didn’t know. In fact, there is often much more to any given story that you will probably never know. Trust in that, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

<sigh>  It’s a lot easier to admit being wrong when you weren’t an asshole before.

There are a few other things I’ve learned in these last few years…

Definite principles must guide friendships. Though given to solitude, I have grown to realize that I spent too freely in friendship and neglected relationships that needed more care. As a consequence, I am often more lonely than I would prefer. Indeed, people can enter and exit into your life (and there is not always one party to blame for this evolution) but there is something to be said for keeping people kept. Having met a few special people over the course of my life, I have taken it for granted that such would always be the case. Not necessarily.

Exercising isn’t optional. It is a necessity. At this point, it’s not vanity. I have come to realize that if I want to maintain being only merely somewhat out-of-shape, I’m going to have to work at it. The entropy is real. My body battles me for decay. Within my bones and muscle I feel betrayal. Indolence must be confronted daily, if not hourly. I know in my marrow that I cannot take the ability to move my limbs for granted.

Boredom can be a gift. As our culture grows faster, and louder, and more interconnected, there is a strange ancient comfort in forcing yourself to be “bored.” To sit still and be bored. Or to occupy your hands with some honest unthinking task (I prefer laundry and lawn-mowing), while letting your mind run wild. Much of my creativity at this age flows while doing some tedious chore or errand rather than quiet, undisturbed meditation. Though the latter is certainly more coveted.

Always find a way to learn more, understand better and deeper. Keep learning. Some days it feels like it’s all I’m ever doing. It’s one of the best things one can do in this life. Some days it feels like I can’t do anything right, but I can still learn. I am learning how to take better care of myself and communicate clearly. I’m learning to be quieter, to listen better. To speak and write with more efficiency…

But at 41 years of age, I can say that I know who I am… and after all these years, there’s a victory in that.

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