By Ken Trainor
Sometimes you just have to stare down uncomfortable truths and state them publicly. Wednesday is my 60th birthday.
As milestones go, this one offers a unique vantage point, so for those who want a preview (or a review), here's my report on how the world looks at 60:
I have plenty of past to sift through, myriad memories, lots of flashbacks, my share of regrets and joys. Mistakes have been made, lessons learned, wisdom gained — all of it stored in a memory that leaks and can no longer be entirely trusted.
I used to spend much more time thinking about how I got here and where I'm going. These days, however, I focus more on where I am and savor the transitory moments of beauty and happiness as they come along — not as frequently as one might wish, but frequently enough.
I have lived my life less concerned than I probably should about material possessions and monetary wealth, and no doubt I'll pay a price for it as I get older, but I knew that all along. What wealth I have must be measured in the currency of intangibles — friendship, love, knowledge, understanding and memories.
All of us are the sum of our experiences, the quality of the physical and mental "equipment" we were blessed (or burdened) with, our life decisions (great and small), the circumstances we find ourselves in, the character we've cultivated, and sheer dumb luck (or, if you prefer, divine providence).
These and other factors make us unique, bordering on eccentric, especially as we get older. I have my quota of quirks and plenty of people around who can enumerate them for you.
My readers know I have a strong desire to share my unique slant with a world that isn't always receptive to it, in a culture filled with far too much nonsense and noise. I wonder more and more if I will have enough time to say what I really want to say.
At 60, life has become an ongoing tug-of-war between what you've gained and what you're losing. I seem to be growing (knowledge, my waistline) and diminishing (memory, my disappearing ass) at the same time — a peculiar, perplexing paradox.
I'm eating lighter these days, sipping slower. I need more exercise (as several recent hikes in the mountains of Colorado made explicitly clear). Over the years, I have become more sympathetic, reflective and emotional (but less angry). Meanwhile, everyone around me seems to increase in complexity, each person a vast multidimensional ocean of otherness.
The good news is that life remains elusively mysterious and fascinating, though that may not seem like good news to you, if you're the type who needs answers. Some people as they get older become "set in their ways." I'm set in some ways, but not in my thinking or beliefs.
Is there a God? Is there an afterlife? One thinks about such things more earnestly at 60. There are reasons to believe in both, just as there are reasons to believe in black holes and multiple universes. At the moment, they all strike me as equally plausible.
Lack of certainty, however, is not a failing. Doubt deserves respect. Wonder is a virtue, the source of questioning and, therefore, creativity. Intelligent guesswork is essential to both spirituality and science. It is how we navigate and explore this marvelous mystery we were born into. Our apprehension of truth will forever require further refinement, our reach always exceeding our grasp, as the poet said.
I believe that all consciousness, deep down, is connected (like a well without a bottom) and when we die, we "return" to that collective consciousness in some fashion. Will we retain our individuality? I don't know, but I'm not as attached to that notion as I once was. If the collective consciousness is where God dwells, then we are connected to the divine every second of every day, which is profoundly reassuring.
And if we are connected one to another — indeed to all of life — then self-love means love of all and the individual truly is the universal. Someday, humanity will figure out how to make that reality redemptive.
A friend recently accused me of being "the kind of guy who thinks the unexamined life is not worth living." I wouldn't know about that, but I do know that the examined life is worth living.
At 60, my mortality has become a steady companion, and "letting go" has started its slow climb up the list of life goals. It will likely move into first place just before I die — if I'm lucky enough to have a peaceful death. "Control," "certainty," "security," and "ego gratification," meanwhile, are gradually working their way down the list. A few small pleasures, however, will always be important. By 60, a lot of the chaff has blown away. What remains is increasingly precious.
At 60, there is a growing sense of urgency if you have a "bucket list." Last week my son and daughter-in-law helped me check off number one: They arranged a hot-air balloon ride in Colorado. It was wonderful.
People often ask, "What age do you feel inside?" I've never felt anything other than my actual age. A late bloomer, my entire life has been aimed toward living long enough to have something worth saying. I'm still coming into my own.
I remember how I got here, I have a hunch about where I'm going, I continue to unravel (and be surprised by) who I am, and I don't blame anyone but myself for all of the above. I have a few people I love dearly, a host of people I like very much, and a small audience of readers who, like me or not, at least know what I'm thinking. Not bad, as predicaments go.
It will be interesting to see how life looks from the 70-year marker.