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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Looking at 60 -- Both Directions

"In literature and art memory is a synonym for invention. It is the life-blood of imagination, which faints and dies when the veins are empty."  ~Robert Aris Willmott



As I come within a couple of weeks of becoming a sexagenarian (And, no, that term has nothing to do with anything related to intercourse.),  I'm coming to terms with the reality that the closer I get to my eventual demise, the more childlike I have become. With a limited amount of life left before me, I see a very close association with a much younger mindset that has had but a brief time to develop, yet the similarity I share with youth is actually a reversal. As the young person focuses a hungry appetite toward his future, I explore the dusty corners of my past.

You see, as a young man, the majority of my lifespan lay before me. My hopes, aspirations, and dreams were set in a future full of anticipation. Then, I had more than ample time for trial and acquisition. With little actual experience behind me, I felt free to enjoy my adolescence, my college years, and even my middle age with vigor and a great deal of freedom. After all, excuse the cliché; however, time was “on my side,” and with naivete, I assumed all worthwhile things would materialize as long as I spent my time pursuing proper, building-block behaviors. In short, I believed plenty of time would be available for any decent avenue of interest. A degree of abandon had actually served me relatively well.

But now, at 60, I have the winter of my life serving as the last future, which promises a reality of growing dependence. Although I am a great distance from my fleeting youth, I am prone to examine this part of my life for answers to perplexing, even intriguing questions. I feel a need to draw together both ends of life, the beginning and the conclusion, to interpret  some personal meaning.

Almost all of my accomplishments and goals have either been fulfilled or dashed. As my past becomes the once-trodden dreamland of my life and reminiscence is continually at hand, I am left to roam this landscape again, contemplating vast perceptions stuck in my brain. I am incapable of resurrecting 60 years of life, but that doesn't keep me from trying. Maybe this thinking is truly an oxymoron provided by time: a cheap luxury of aging. Doesn't everyone second guess changes and alternate outcomes?

Personally, I believe only a fool would say, “I wouldn't change a thing in my past.” I can't understand how any human could not regret and long to change many ignorant decisions and thoughtless actions. I do not share an idealistic belief that dozens of mistakes found in hindsight must remain as necessary learning scars. Isn't intentional misconduct regrettable and isn't the purpose of life to restrict improper actions? Given another chance, I would do everything in my power to erase hurtful past events over which I had complete control. A wasted opportunity, a terrible action, a hateful word, a wicked deed --- all haunt my recollection.

I know reliving some of the past is inevitable. And, at this state of life, reviving certain events seems to help me comprehend what little perspective of the present I possess. Savoring a memory is as close as I can get to crawling into its skin. Time may negatively affect total recall, but the sensations of long ago and the intermittent strong currents of absolute connection to the past provide the best hard-wired recall. Suddenly, a "soul bridge" magically transports me to something I must remember.

A memory can be bitter or sweet. Sometimes I indifferently relive it; sometimes I console myself with it; and sometimes I rage against it. Thinking about sixty years of life opens floods of emotions born on innumerable stages peopled with thousands of players. At this stage in my life, these memories serve to mark the scope and meaning of any minute influence I have had. Although I remember just slices of times, many events in my life have left very definite imprints and vivid images.


As I reach this milestone of aging, I think mostly about what, if any, value has been provided by my simple life. Living reminds me of teaching. Anyone who seriously studies the art of either soon comprehends he can never do it well enough. The struggle is rewarding, yet the doubt of effective management is numbing. This doubt springs from the realization that, as much as a person strives to attain laurels of approval, no efforts he makes guarantee his desired grace of meaningful attainment. In life or in teaching, one's work is never fully accomplished. And, in the end, no one can produce desired results because such an end product bears certain obscurity.

Many years ago, in a high school ballgame, if I made a touchdown catch or if I delivered a game-winning base hit, the instant reward fed my young ego and filled me with joy. I understood then that I would get numerous other changes to execute such behaviors. I lived for the near future and the life within the next field of competition. Sports were life in microcosm that offered immediate rewards of personal attainment and minor reversible setbacks. How often I dreamed of living a life comprised of merely playing ballgames.

I have seldom captured such simple pleasures since then because everything requiring my adult participation becomes complicated, convoluted, and interpretive. As I realize I am more and more a fixture grounded in my own past, I often wish I hadn't succumbed to “reading between the lines” and “keeping my enemies closer” and “guarding my heart.” I realize now that I just want to play the game again within the rules I know, without fear of outside influences, and with little regard for upsetting any delicate balance. Unfortunately, aging presents limitations that greatly restrict anticipation of the next card dealt by time.

Yes, I am very grateful to be turning 60. I understand the gift of the good life I have been afforded. Still, I have never been accused of being a romantic or a lover of fantasy. Staring realistically into a long past and into a relatively brief future, I find myself longing for missing pieces. The identification of those scattered fragments is not terribly difficult, but finding new utility for the incomplete shards totally frustrates me. Still, the scrap pile of memory grows as each day casts new parts atop the mass. At 60 I feel encumbered by the sprawling heap, and I feel the need to construct something useful from so much accumulation.



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