I turned 56 last Tuesday. I’m not sure why, but this birthday made me more contemplative than usual. So now that my week has slowed down a wee bit, I thought I’d sit down and try to put some of my thoughts in writing.
At 56 I’m probably about two thirds of the way through life. I’ve worked full time since I was 25, and I’m probably more than three fourths through my working career. I’ve been married for almost thirty four years to my best friend, a woman who challenges me, makes me a better person, and who has always supported me, no matter how crazy I’ve gotten. My father lived until he was 88, but the last ten years or so was plagued by back pain, macular degeneration, and ultimately Alzheimer’s. All of these frighten me. My mother had a debilitating stroke at age 56 which robbed her of her ability to talk for over thirty years. I assure you I think of this regularly.
None of us are guaranteed another day, even another minute on this earth. I’m planning, expecting, to live a number of years comparable to my parents. If I don’t get that many years, I’ll trust in God’s wisdom and mercy, and I will know that I lived a good and full life. I have a wonderful family, a fulfilling job, friends, comforts – I am blessed beyond what anyone should expect from life. We are building our dream house, planning and designing a house that will make us comfortable and safe for the next 20 to 30 years. I have lived to see my first grandchild, and all of my children have safely (for the most part) made it to age 18. My youngest will graduate high school on June 1 (assuming he passes my class!). What more can a man ask from his God?
And so, to borrow a word my wife has used more and more often, I find myself content. There are still things I wish I had done, things I wish I had done differently, and things I’d like to still do. But I am at peace with my past, and I am content even if I never get to do any of the things on my to-do list.
Many of our friends bemoan the empty-nest years. I can’t wait! Don’t misunderstand me; I love my kids. But 29 of our 34 years of marriage have been devoted to our children. While I don’t think we were overbearing or helicopter parents, we’ve been to nearly every PTA meeting, open house, soccer game, dance recital – you name it, we went. I’m so looking forward to being alone with my bride who is immeasurably more beautiful than she was the day of our first date (January 29, 1977) and our wedding (May 19, 1979).
And grandchildren! What a joy! Barely a month old and I can’t remember life before she arrived. Watching my daughter and her husband learning to be parents, and being in awe of how well they are doing – priceless!
A lot of attention is given to our social media obsessions. I teach high school seniors, so I know first hand how Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other sites can take over a person’s time and energy. But let me tell you something. The ability these things give us to make contact is fantastic! I’m not a major Facebook user. I’ve never done FarmVille or any of that stuff. I resist almost all of the Facebook apps. I’ve never played words with friends. But over the years I’ve amassed a large group of Facebook friends. And on Tuesday I heard from them. Wow, did I ever hear from them. Over 150 greetings for my birthday. Many were simple birthday wishes. But some were touching, lovely messages from students I’ve taught over the past 13 years. Some were from high school basketball teammates, some from people who were role models to me in my church growing up, some were current friends, some were friends I went to kindergarten with. Without Facebook, I would never hear from these people. And so even if the contacts are superficial, it’s a way of feeling connected in a busy, fast, disconnected world.
I started sending Facebook birthday greetings more often a few months ago. I think I’m going to do more of it because of how it affected me. I decided that I was going to reply to all of my birthday messages and I think I did. With a high school soccer game, it was late before I did, but nearly every name that showed up made me smile. A lot of my replies led to “conversations” allowing me to keep up with old friends and dear former students. So I’ve decided this Facebook is a pretty good thing.
All day at school, kids would ask if I was going to do anything exciting for my birthday, and I would usually give a smart-Alec response. After school we looked at our home construction and ate at an ordinary deli before sitting in the cool night watching our awesome son play soccer. A student brought cupcakes to school, my wife brought a 13 pound cake to school, and students and teachers signed a card made from butcher paper. I’m not sure my students would consider that exciting.
I considered it perfect.
Like I said, I’m content.