I’ve always loved birthdays—being a middle child, any day set aside to exclusively celebrate me, is a win. But the past couple of years, birthdays seem to carry some mixed emotions. This year was particularly troubling.
“So, how are you feeling about 35?” My dad asked me on the phone that day.
“Not great,” I confessed. “I’m halfway to forty!” Referring to my inching away from the near side of thirty to the shadowy far side.
“Actually, you’re halfway to 70.” He so gently reminded me, not helping the situation at all.
I hear aging is not all bad. This is what I’m told, from the old-ers and wise-ers around me. It has its perks. You become more at ease in your skin. You worry less about what other people think. You don’t care as much about what you appear to be and care more about who you are actually becoming. You are comfortable with who you were made to be, and you settle into it.
It all sounds lovely.
But I’m starting to realize that this comfortable, settled, care-less about the unimportant things, while caring more about the significant things, doesn’t happen by accident. No, aging is not a calamity. But we must make it so. It could very easily be a near disaster if we don’t learn how to do it well.
In his book, Falling Upward, Richard Rohr talks about the two halves of life. The first half is concrete. As children, we learn our sense of morality, of right and wrong, of clearly defined boundaries and easily distinguishable black and white. There is a sense of certainty, and that life is almost formulaic. You do this, you get that. It’s simplistic that way.
According to Rohr, ideally, we age out of this first half of life mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as we age out of it physically. Approaching the second half of life in a holistic way, suggests we acknowledge how much gray there is in our once black and white world. It sees nuances we formally ignored or were once blind to. It approaches life as less of a straight line, and more of a circuitous and wandering path that rarely offers any sort of prescription. We hold more loosely to things. The hills worth dying on are fewer and farther between, because we start to realize how little we actually know, and that maybe, just maybe, there are far less non-negotiables when it comes to our beliefs than we ever thought. It softens us up a bit, it wizens us up a bit and it relaxes us into our skin saying, “I don’t have it all together, and at this stage, I’m not even sure that’s the point.”
The magic of this second half of life lies in learning how to grow up, while also growing old.
This more illusive second half of life is not reached at a particular age and won’t be arrived at on accident. This half will take intentionality and practice. It will take work. And the closer I get to the physical second half of life, the more I’m starting to realize that’s work I want to do.
I want to approach each year, as someone who isn’t fighting time, but moving with it, and growing toward something, instead of digging my heels in and disputing the inevitable.
I want to be more comfortable with who I am—in everything from gifting to body shape, from personality to parenting style—instead of striving to morph into something I am not, so I can take the acceptance I have of myself and pass the same gift along to others.
I want to be certain about my few things, but know even then, my understanding is limited, and my vision skewed, and for all of us, grace abounds.
I want my outward relationships and my external behavior to reflect my internal priorities, and to demonstrate a fierce loyalty to the people who mean the most to me.
I want to relish in the beauty of a slow and steady committed love, the kind a lifetime spent with one person—doing the day in and day out monotony of life—affords.
I want the fullness of what came before, urge me towards what comes next. And the loss of what’s past, cause gratitude, and not despondency.
I want peace to replace fear and anxiety be exchanged for contentment.
I want to invite people into my world who are different from me in hopes to learn from them, and not change them to fit my ideal.
And I want to have worked to arrive at all these destinations knowing the best places to be, and the best people to become, are those that demand purpose and intention and are not a byproduct of happenstance.
I want to embrace the second half of life. Both of them. The physical one approaching much faster than I ever imagined it could. And the elusive one I’ll miss out on if I’m not careful.
Because aging is a gift. And when we do it right, it is a gift to ourselves, but also to the world. The world doesn’t just need older people. It needs people who have moved past their childish ways and grown into seasoned veterans of life. Who may be a little worse for the wear, but have made peace with themselves and the complexities of life in the process. Who say, “I don’t know” more often than they previously felt comfortable with, but also “I love you” and “Thank you” and “You matter” and “I forgive you” more often than they ever have before.
The world needs us. The at-peace us. The learning us. The aging us. The us we have the greatest potential of becoming, if we are willing to put in the work to get there.
I’m halfway to seventy. Yes. But done well, that means I’m halfway to awesome. And, that’s not so bad. So keep piling on the candles. I’ll take it, as long as this older, wiser version of myself has cake to eat, I’ll be just fine.