I don't know about the rest of you, but it has recently come to my attention that I am getting old. I've been looking into it, and have discovered that there has never been a time in which I was as old as I am now, so there may be something to that theory. Nevertheless, as I talk to other people who have made similar discoveries, some peculiar themes have emerged. You may be one of these folks, but in case you are not, you might want to look into your current age compared to what it was a year ago.
But seriously, there is something about getting older, that starts to raise interesting thoughts and questions in all of us. I spend a lot of long time talking with young people who are wondering what they need to do with their lives and how they might prepare for the future which eventually is thrust upon most of them. Amazingly, this does not seem to change. If anything, each generation seems to feel that the stakes are higher and the future more dire than the one that proceeded them, and while they may be right, I suspect that this feeling might be a bit nuanced by the fact that they are focused on the state they are in and/or glimpsing the life of someone else they care about through the lenses of their own fears. Meanwhile, us old folks are increasingly worried about the uncertainty of a future where we have to stop doing what we're currently doing and do something else or, worse yet, not do much of anything else besides thinking of the things we did. I sometimes find myself listening to songs like Fred Jones, Part 2 by Ben Folds and wondering how much that song is about me — or soon will be.
All of this leads me to a few observations. As I look at all the things people tell me about the passage of time, it occurs to me that fear is the real enemy that causes us the most problems. We don't know what is going to happen in our futures, but we've done a very good job of teaching people to be afraid of that. Lurid news stories make us fear for our lives and lifestyle. Marketing departments cause us to fear that we might not be relevant or have things that we need to have in order to be either "current" or able to cope with those who are. Interpersonal memes might lead us to fear that we're out of touch or coming to a place where we don't belong. Watching others struggle reminds of that we struggle.
However you look like it, we live in a world that drives us by fear, and fear is such an effective motivator that this is not going away anytime soon.
I don't pretend to know how to deal with my own fear, but I am taken by that passage of scripture that says "complete (or perfect) love casts out all fear." Maybe we ought to be looking into how to love completely, instead of letting fear force us to hold things back. Perhaps the courage to actually cross that hurdle is what we need to keep fear away. Long ago, I was able to convince someone to marry me, and she's stayed that way, so it must be possible for me to get up the courage to take a chance with someone else every now and then.
Another thought that has been much with me lately is that I have reached a time when I need to do something I'll regret. It seems like there were a lot of opportunities to do risky and stupid things when I was younger, but I somehow managed to get this old because I developed an aversion to them. Accordingly, I'm not so worried about getting caught doing something that teenage me might have done - and there's a song for that, too — because I'm an old guy. That's not how we roll. I'm actually worried now because I can look at all the things that I have not done over the years and imagine what might have occurred if I had. What if I had chosen a different educational or career path? Conducted some relationships differently? Invested differently? Believed differently? You can go crazy reviewing your life and dwelling on the possibilities that you missed, or at least that's my best current excuse. So, instead of doing that, why not start looking at things that are outside your comfort zone? I still have time to retire from a different job, so why not look for one? I've had no end of people approach me with crazy ideas, so why not take a few folks up on them? I'm past the midlife crisis stage, when I have to prove I'm not old yet, and I've gone on to the stage where I want some interesting new memories to add to the large store I already have. Without sacrificing my identity and morality, what would I ordinarily not do and why? Maybe there's a new set of memories or opportunities waiting for me to notice them already.
"We can never catch the rabbit, and what would we do if we did?"
Finally, it occurred to me from a recent conversation that I am occasionally able to say something that sounds more profound than "apply to infested area." With that in mind, my new thing is that "we can never catch the rabbit, and what would we do if we did?" What I mean is that it seems as if most of us spend our adult lives in search of something or reaching for something. We have hopes and ambitions that keep us striving to achieve, and those things draw us on through jobs, relationships, and many other aspects of life. Some people have even mastered the ambition of having no ambition, which can be pretty hard. As the conversation goes, so many of us get caught up in a chase that we cannot win — much like greyhounds on a track, chasing a mechanical rabbit. We run and run, almost to the point of exhaustion, but personal goals and dreams are likely not meant to be something that we finally reach. After all, if you were to attain all of your life's goals tomorrow, what would you do next? It's easy, as we get older, to feel frustrated, feeling that we've never even gotten close to catching the rabbit and we never will. in such cases, it's also very easy to get tired or depressed, since it all seems so pointless. It's at that juncture that we might do well to ask ourselves again: "what would we do if we caught the rabbit?" I'm pretty sure that it would be a dissatisfying experience as well — assuming that the rabbit we catch is the correct one to begin with. The better thing to do, perhaps, is to look for ways to not be chasing the rabbit and instead find ways to enjoy watching the race itself.