I will soon be 60. I saw a picture of myself from about 10 years ago: virtually no gray hair, and few lines. But here is an interesting observation, not apparent by the pictures of then and now: I am happier, and more alive. I am wiser, even if more battered, or maybe wiser because more battered (battered perhaps like a frog leaping from the pot into the frying pan.) I am also poignantly more aware of how precarious life is, pivoted on a moment separating now from whatever eternity may hold.
I can define my life now by measures largely absent 10 years ago–the things I value most: the love of a woman fully available; the deepening connection I have with my adult daughter; the opportunity to champion an individual against the power of a corporation; the precious quiet time spent in the presence of the Holy Spirit; the joy of hearing great classical music, or viewing extraordinary art; the taste of a great cabernet, the hilarious laughter of friends sharing the craziness of life; the creation or reading of a poem or story that “works,” the pleasure of an early morning walk or run; or something as simple as the first cup of tea upon awakening.
But if the quality of my life could be tagged to one shift in understanding, it would be that the quality of my life depends on the quality of my relationships. How I “connect” directly impacts my happiness, and my effectiveness. When I “owned” this truth, and pursued its implications, however outside my comfort zone, my life became considerably richer.
A second implication of this awareness has been that the quality of my relationships is dependent on the openness of my heart to give, and to receive. The idea of being “present” to another means listening from the heart, moving out of the tyranny of the “self” and into the reality of the “other”. This shift from self to other is often called “empathy” but it is something more: it is the ability to suspend prejudice, bias, agendas, and “being right.” It requires the kind of humility Christ demonstrated in his relationships: though he was God, he humbled himself voluntarily to take the form and likeness of a man, and to enter the world not to demand, but to serve. Though he had the power and the right to condemn and punish, he chose to forgive and to love. He was full of “truth and grace.”
So, I look back at those pictures, and I am ambivalent. Would I like the increased youth and vigor of those years? Of course. But I treasure more the freedom and satisfactions of my present age. I feel intuitively that these “imperishable treasures” are the only “things” of real or lasting value. Ironically, upon turning 60, I will be younger and more free than at any other time of my life.