Monday, June 22, 2015

The Best Years of Your Life

What happens if you wake up one day and come to the conclusion that your best days might be behind you? For my younger friends, this isn't likely to happen, but if you're over fifty, at some point the thought might rear it's ugly head. This is not a matter of depression or even anxiety, rather a frank admission of fact with a keen eye towards the calendar. I am 57 years old, and as such have most likely lived roughly two thirds of my expected life span. I've got thirty years left, more or less, not counting the occurrence of some freak accident or act of God. The question then becomes, will I accomplish as much, create as much, do as much over the next thirty years as I did since I was 27?

Much has changed in the last thirty years. In 1985 there were things that I knew to be true:

1. I was about to become a father. I knew what my job was as a man. My job was to provide for my family. I was willing to do whatever it took. I also needed to provide a stable environment for my kids to grow up in which meant primarily...loving their mother with all of my heart.

2. I loved my church in 1985, not everything about it, but the big things, I loved. I was in a Sunday School class full of young couples our age all struggling with the same stuff, being taught by a guy who was one of us, a laymen who could teach circles around most seminarians. I got challenged every week with something from the bible that was applicable to my day to day struggles. As a consequence, I felt like I was making spiritual progress of some kind, becoming a better person little by little. 

3. I knew who we were as a country. America was a gigantic rowdy stew of discontent, even thirty years ago, but there was still the conviction that we were great, a nation of more good than bad, a force that stood for something noble, or at last made an attempt to. Maybe we weren't actually great, but there seemed a shared notion that we should at least aspire to greatness. By greatness, I suppose I mean that we thought of ourselves as leaders of at least the free world. When the Berlin Wall came down, it was as if we had finally prevailed over the totalitarian inclinations of the world. 

4. In 1985 my family had its organization and hierarchy perfectly in tact as it had always been. My Mom and Dad were the leaders of a growing tribe. They set the pace for the rest of us. It was all so reliable and comforting to know and understand one's place in the world.

I knew more than just these four things, of course, but these four formed the basis of my understanding of what life was about. Today, everything has changed. Some things have changed on the margins, but other things are completely unrecognizable to me:

1. My kids are grown and gone, and with them most of the fire that they put in my belly to make money. Now that I'm not under such financial pressure, it's hard to know how to downshift my internal engine to a lower gear without tearing up the transmission. I'm afraid that without huge overwhelming obligations, I will lose the competitive drive that has been one of the keys to my success in the business world. I feel myself scrambling around for new goals, something freshly pressing, a new rabbit to chase.

2. I'm still at the same church. Many, although not all of the people I knew thirty years ago are still there. The fact that I no longer feel enriched, challenged or motivated by my attendance there isn't all the fault of the church. In fact most of my discontent is my own fault. In matters spiritual the fault almost always lies within I'm told...especially by ineffectual clergymen. So, I feel adrift from my faith community, as the kids now call it.

3. The America of 2015 is no longer the leader of anything except social pathology statistics. We have been surpassed by other, more aggressive nations in the categories that used to measure influence. This isn't the fault of any President or party, it just is. We are fractured, divided by a laundry list of issues, with no common ground in sight. At last count there are 13 announced candidates for the Republican Party nomination for President in 2016. Still, everyone knows deep down that it will wind up being another Bush vs. Clinton matchup. That's who we are now, it's the best we can do. Instead of doing something about runaway debt, a cratering education system and the actuarial doomsday clock which is the American welfare apparatus, we seem obsessed with making the world safe and affirming for the likes of Caitlyn Jenner. Sexual identity politics has now eclipsed racial identity politics, or maybe identity politics has itself been eclipsed, since everything is now fluid and evolving. We're all aggrieved now for one reason or another. 

4. My family is still large, loud and growing, but leaderless. Mom and Dad aren't here anymore. We who remain are trying to figure out what happens now at Christmas. It's a strange season of life when the big lights go out all at once. When they do, I suppose it's natural to stumble around in the darkness for a while waiting for your eyes to adjust.

So, the question lingers, are my best days behind me? What will the next thirty years bring? I feel like I need to regroup, call a timeout and draw up a new battle plan. The plays I have always called in the past might not work against this new world of slippery assumptions. I had a teacher one time who tried to help me learn how to spell the word assume. He said, "always remember Doug that when you assume, it always makes an ASS out of U and ME. Poor guy would get fired for using that trick today. The point is, the days are long gone when I could assume anything about life. Black is white, up is down, left is right, so I'll have to learn to roll with this new world. There's no going back. What's in the past is finished. Whatever time that remains will have to be fought over and won.