This week, I turn 40. On the one hand, this is meaningful primarily because, as Dogbert put it, we see significance in big round numbers.
But it also has some more logical significance. Life expectancy here in the United States is about 79 years on average. That means that, at my age, I can make the guess that in a statistical sense, my life is half over.
Not that this means I will live to 80, of course. Family history alone shows my paternal grandmother died at 46, while my maternal grandfather is in reasonably good shape for his age at 94. You can factor in all kinds of fun variables. My race (white) and income (middle class) give me an advantage. My family history of heart disease and high cholesterol give me a disadvantage. I was a sickly child, and have always had a tendency to go on a bad run of illness every several years. On the other hand, my 30s have actually been the healthiest period of my life. So basically, who the heck knows?
In a best case scenario, however, 80 is probably the limit for fully independent living and reasonable health. Depressing, yes, a bit. But I really shouldn’t complain about the run I have had. It’s been good. And I have outlived many, many people of the past - even 100 years ago.
It is a bit interesting to reflect on my 30s. There is no doubt that I got a lot more sleep during them than I did in my 20s. If for no other reason than that, life was better after 30. On the other hand, I do feel life was more simple in my 20s - at least the second half of that decade after I married. It is an advantage of having three very small kids that getting through work and midnight feedings is enough of an accomplishment. A lot of other things just go by the wayside for the moment, and you survive.
Parenthood has been much more fun than I imagined. I have, if I have to say so myself, the world’s best kids. I’m not entirely sure why. The longer I parent, the less I think I have any clue what I am doing. I often suspect they thrive more in spite of me than because of me. But we do have fun together.
I know some people tend to reflect on how little they have accomplished as they get older. That’s not really my personality. I feel like I always knew that I wouldn’t ever be able to do/read/experience/see/whatever everything that I wanted. Life is just too short. (As Tolkien put it, the gift of man is that he dies before he wearies of life…) But as much as that, I am just not as driven to accomplishment as some. I wouldn’t consider myself lazy, but I’m not a type A. My wife says I am a “plodder,” and she doesn’t mean it in a derogatory manner. A lesser woman might say I lacked ambition - and it’s probably true. I never expected to set the world on fire, and never wanted to. I wanted an ordinary life, a wife and kids, a decent house in the suburbs somewhere, and a job that kept the bills paid. Which, come to think of it, is what I got. I wanted the change to make music, to read, to hike and explore. To have friends to share experiences with. And, yep, that looks a lot like my life now.
One of the goals I set for this period of my life is to see as many of the western National Parks as we can before the kids head off to college and their own lives.
Thus, in this decade, we have visited 17 National Parks together, plus a good number of National Monuments, State Parks, and other natural wonders. We’ve hiked around 700 miles together, gone from 282 feet below sea level to over 10,000 feet above it.
We’ve run races together, seen Shakespeare live, watched the once nearly extinct Condor soar, and looked at galaxies millions of light-years away.
My wife and I finally got to visit Paris together - her first time in Europe. We have had 15 years as husband and wife - and as best friends and lovers. Marriage too has been more fun than expected.
Some things that have happened in the next decade I would not have predicted. I never expected to leave the Republican Party - but then again, I never predicted that they would nominate a narcissistic sociopath running on an expressly racist and xenophobic platform either.
On a related note, I never expected to be a blogger. Or even a writer, honestly. I mean, I write professionally, but the only people who read my briefs and pleadings are those who are paid to. I hadn’t written for my own pleasure since my college days. Even more surprising is that my little book-related blog ended up addressing religious and political topics. But, like the GOP, my own tribe, the Evangelicals, seem to increasingly embracing toxic doctrine and embarrassing themselves on a national stage. My hope for them (unlike political parties who can live or die and I really don’t care that much) is that they are able to refocus on the Greatest Commandment, embrace the positive developments of the last couple centuries (feminism, human rights, science…) rather than setting dogma over reality. Perhaps by being a voice on these issues, I can persuade a few people.
On a lighter note, I never would have predicted that Alexander Hamilton - who used to be of interest primarily to nerdy students of history, politics, or law - would be the subject of a hit musical. So please don’t look to me for prognostication.
But anyway, my first four decades have been an interesting ride. However long I have left, I intend to keep learning, leave a legacy of love behind, speak truth as I explore and discover it, and enjoy what I have been given.
I’m not “old” yet, by 21st Century standards, but I am not as young as I once was. So, some Tennyson as I look toward the future:
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Just for comparison, here is what I wrote four years ago.
And, as a companion to Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” here is what I wrote about T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.