Yesterday was to be my 40th birthday, but I declined the award because I didn't feel I deserved it. I'm not sure I have 40 years worth of accomplishments to offer to the universe. Like the song we used to sing in church, He's still working on me, to make me what I ought to be. In other words, I'm still under construction. But then again, aren't we all.
The only way I feel that age matters to me is in the loss of certain childhood dreams. Like most little boys, I dreamt of playing in the pros, whether football or baseball. Those dreams have realistically been gone for several years, but kept alive in movies such as The Natural and The Rookie (baseball) and Unnecessary Roughness and The Replacements (football) where aging men whose dreams had long been thought gone, find their moment of glory fufilled. Today, I can no longer dream that I am a Roy Hobbs, sidetracked for a time, but still ready to find my moment on the field. That time for me has truly passed.
With one child off to college already, I can sense that even more changes are imminent. The road that we are on will soon come to an end and a new course will be chosen. In truth, age has nothing to do with the journey. As Indiana Jones once said, "It's not the years, it's the mileage".
The following is something I wrote earlier this year. Watching the snow fall outside today, it came to mind. I offer it again to say this - life is a journey; and on that journey, choose your passengers well.
Oh, and whatever happens on your journey - don't stop believing.
In Missouri, as in what seems to be 80% of the nation, we've had a lot of snowfall. Here in Sainte Genevieve we had a few storms that gave us a powdering to an inch or two. But this week, we had enough snow to head for the in-laws and do some sledding. The sun was shining and the snow had a real glaze on top; perfect for sledding.
Two of our three children had spent the night at Nana and Papa's, so they were already out back when my wife and I arrived. Out the back door, I walked to the top of the hill. I saw Anna and Nate at the bottom of the hill with Finn, the little boy next door who's friends with Nate. Papa Gary gave me the layout of the route. Their hill slopes from two directions into a corner of their yard, fenced on one side with untamed mother nature on the other. This can make for some odd approaches and close calls with the fence and the trees. Papa said it was slick and fast and they had moved the disc sleds out of the rotation since they were harder to steer. Whether because I was brave and foolhardy or I just felt my girth needed it, I grabbed a disc and said we'd see about that. He pointed out the different paths they had taken, I picked what I thought would be the fastest and off I went.
There comes a point in time when you realize that you are not a child anymore. At 39, I have spent much time avoiding such considerations. My wife often say she has four children, but when I look around I only count three. I was still playing rock music on stage just a few years ago. I shake it with my teen's friends when they play "Just Dance" on the WII and still take them to concerts (I'm goo goo for Gaga). I like Hot Topic and can shop there without them pretending that they have no clue who I am.
But racing down a hill at what seemed to be 60 mph on a thin plastic over-sized Pringle's lid, will make you realize something. As your life flashes by, along with the fence line and trees, you realize that the whole life-flashing-in-front-of-you thing better hurry because your about to reach the end of the yard before you reach the end of your life. Snow and ice fill the air, the fence is flying by and I'm still in high school. That tree is starting to look bigger and I'm out of college now. C'mon, c'mon, skip ahead, nothing happened there, get to the good stuff. The disc begins to spin and I see the beautiful Dawn walking down the aisle toward me at our wedding. As I feel my stomach drop, I hear a child scream, the fence and the trees become a blur, but now I see our children playing on the beach, hunting for crabs. The sled hits a bump and lurches to the right sending me directly for the corner and now the children and Dawn and I are in our condo overlooking the lake. We're sprawled out on a bed with our heads jumbled together as I snap a photo of us. One last spin, I hit a mound of snow and as quickly as it began, the ride halts.
I look up to see that I've stopped just short of catastrophe, in the spot where it all comes together - the fence, the trees and me. I rather ungracefully flop from the sled and rise to my knees, taking a few breaths to replenish my lungs. I look around and a thought occurs to me - I'm old enough to be Billy Crystal in City Slickers. This may seem strange, but I've often looked to this movie when contemplating mortality (I know it's strange - I even just said so - let me be). I had just faced down my own mortality and it just hit me that I was now the same age as Crystal's character Mitch. In the movie, Mitch has a mid-life crisis on his 39th birthday. Crystal, as Mitch gives a humorously depressing talk to his son's classroom for Career Day.
In the movie, Mitch and his buddies run off to a dude ranch to herd cattle and look for answers. An old ranch-hand imparts his wisdom about the secret to life - its "just one thing" he says. When Mitch asks what the one thing is, the ranch-hand said that Mitch had to figure that out himself.
Value this time in your life kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you're a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money and you think to yourself, "What happened to my twenties?" Your forties, you grow a little pot belly you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Your fifties you have a minor surgery. You'll call it a procedure, but it's a surgery. Your sixties you have a major surgery, the music is still loud but it doesn't matter because you can't hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two, lunch around ten, breakfast the night before. And you spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate in soft yogurt and muttering "how come the kids don't call?" By your eighties, you've had a major stroke, and you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can't stand but who you call mama. Any questions?
I turned 39 two months ago. But there is no crisis in my life, mid or otherwise. I love my wife. I love my children. I love my God. I love my church. I love my family and my friends. The truth is, I love my life. I don't need to run off and herd cattle, drive a fancy car or run with the bulls in Spain. I didn't even need to risk my life sliding down a hill of ice at the speed of light. I didn't need any of that to find my "one thing".
So what is the secret to life? What is the "One Thing"? As the old ranch-hand said to Mitch, "That's what you have to find out". I found mine. My "one thing" is this....