To the extent my memory is reliable, I believe the first time I wrote a column about an impending birthday and how old I felt, I was turning 35.
Thirty-five. That’s right.
It’s hard to believe I was ever that age. This past week, my daughter-in-law turned 35.
In a few days, I’ll be 61.
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Almost every March since that initial column on aging, I’ve tried to record how I feel as another year passes — what’s important to me, what’s become unimportant, what’s going well and what not so well.
This is my annual time for taking stock.
Here’s what’s on my mind as 2017 whooshes by:
My grief has largely healed: I lost my mom in 2003, my first wife in 2005 and my dad in 2012. For a long time, by which I mean years, I hardly went an hour without searing grief. And now I’ve come to feel whole again. I don’t know why.
It’s no disrespect to those I lost; I don’t value them any less. But for some reason, I’ve recovered at last and have moved on. My new life has begun to seem normal.
Although my emotions feel better, my body feels worse: I’m finding this to be true not only of me, but of friends my age, even those who are quite fit: physically, we’re deteriorating. Stuff hurts. Knees. Feet. Hips. Backs. It seems as if half the people I know, including me, have bum shoulders.
One friend complained, “What doesn’t hurt doesn’t work.”
I’d started down a flight of stairs recently when my granddaughter Hadley, 7, hurried to get in front of me.
“Papa, be careful, these steps are steep,” she warned. “I’m afraid you’ll fall. This is a handrail. Hold onto it, OK? Don’t get hurt.”
So it begins. Before I know it, they’ll be taking my car keys.
I have less and less to say: I get paid to pontificate from the pulpit and in print. But in my private life, I’m pretty much Silent Cal. No kidding. Talking expends too much unnecessary energy, and I’m not all that interested in anything I’d say anyway, and most people aren’t likely to listen to me. I hold my peace. I sit and smile a lot and pretend I’m listening to the conversation around me, which often I’m not, because ...
I spend too much time weighing the past: I must be composing an autobiography I’ll never write. I find myself pondering my past, remembering funny or sad things that happened, and adventures I had, and loves I won or lost, and trips I took. My earlier life is a DVD that plays in a loop inside my head almost all day, almost every day.
Maybe that’s because when you hit your 60s, there’s not as much to look forward to in the future, unless you happily anticipate bypass surgery or an assisted living facility.
My memory has become both slower and quirkier: I once dominated at games such as Trivial Pursuit. And I knew nearly every question on the TV show “Jeopardy.”
The crevices of my skull still teem with useless information. However, I can’t quickly call up that information anymore. I hear a trivia question. I know that I know the answer. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but — oops, it’s gone. An hour later, it reappears.
Or, to cite another manifestation, I can watch a movie tonight, and by tomorrow I can’t tell you what it was about. But I can clearly recall the plots of films I saw 40 years ago.
I enjoy my grandkids even more: I’ve always been crazy about them, and I probably mention them in every birthday column. Yet I find myself getting more nuts about them as they grow up. In the interest of mercy, I won’t inflict any cute stories on you here.
I try to make few judgments about others and try to hold no grudges: If I haven’t learned much in six decades, I’ve learned, as I’ve written before, that humans are myopic, silly and fallen. That includes me. Maybe me most of all. Therefore, when it comes to dealing with other people and their errors, I try — not always successfully — to love them all, forgive them all and let it all go. There’s peace in simply declining to be offended.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.