When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured
Now I find, I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors
– Help! The Beatles, 1965
I woke up Wednesday halfway to 70 years old.
Now, I’m not the sort of person that gets all frothy over age – I leave that to my ex’s mom. Before this year, I don’t think I have ever considered my age at all. It was always just a number to me – there was time aplenty left in the bank.
It doesn’t necessarily feel that way anymore. Winter is creeping in ever so slowly. My temples turning silver daily, while the crest of my head increasingly features flesh tones. My beard has Santa recruiting agencies knocking on my door. The scale appears to play tricks on me – it only goes up, and never comes back down. My knee has been surgically reconstructed, though the doctor’s warning of impending arthritis proved prophetic. I’m, as they say, falling apart.
Beyond that, little things occur that make me feel like I’m on the other side of life now. I didn’t feel old when I turned 30, or had a kid – but I sure feel old now that my brother-in-law turned 30 and my baby sister is about to have her first child. I feel extremely old when I drive past the old women’s prison on 5 Mile and see an empty field. How well I remember driving by and yelling sweet nothings to the ladies in the yard… they paved paradise indeed.
I felt really old a few weeks back when my amazing vomiting children suffered another stomach flu outbreak. I stood in front of Blue Heron Pointe, watching the swans swimming along while my youngest emptied her guts into a smoldering heap in the lawn (well, some of it was on the outside of the car, and even more on the inside of the car, but still…). Back in the day, high school classmates engaged in naughty behavior by the Blue Heron Pointe sign, leading to days of gossip in the halls of good old Northville High. Now a wizened old man rubbed his daughter’s back as her lunch splashed to the ground. Somehow, I felt older than ever.
But despite the catalog of memories that makes me realize just how much time has past, I also feel like it’s all just getting started. I feel like the life lessons that have smacked me across the face so many times are finally taking hold and leading to something better. Here are some of the things I *think* I’ve learned…
1. Life’s not about just me. Yeah, I know, that’s something we are supposed to learn early on, and certainly by the time we are married, and for sure by the time we have wee tots running around the house. But true selflessness – that has been a hard pill for me to swallow. I always wanted to “seem” like I wasn’t a selfish person… but even in my most giving moments, I was giving for the reward of thanks. I wanted to be recognized for my caring nature, which kind of defeats the purpose, no? Anyway, these last few years have delivered blow after blow to my illusion that I am a giving, caring person. Ever so slowly, I have realized that my life should be about sacrificing for my daughters, about giving up some of my dreams that aren’t in line with my beliefs, about giving my all to the students entrusted to my care. I’m in no way saying that I am successful in this endeavor. However, I can finally acknowledge by life has been extremely selfish, and I look forward to rectifying that in the coming years.
2. I need help. Not clinically… well, not that I know of (the wifie may disagree on that one). But I do need people to help me to make the most of my life. I have always been the type of person to try to do things on my own. Even in group situations, I would often assume the leadership role and not trust the others to do their part, casting an unnecessary burden upon myself. Now that I am a wee bit older, I finally have learned that I have to let go. At home, I have learned that the wifie and I are not adversaries (although the blog might make you think otherwise), and our marriage is stronger for it. Professionally, I had to learn to trust both my colleagues and my students, and in doing so, I have become better at what I do. I am still prone to isolate myself and be “my own person,” but I recognize the dangers of that road now. I am so much better having learned that I need HELP!
3. Make the most of the moments you have. Again, cliche. However, there is a reason that cliches exist. I hope I have a long and fruitful life ahead of me. I know that I won’t have too many more moments like these. My selfish 20’s made me miss out a lot on my wonderful daughters growing up. I hope that I’m on a better path this decade. And this blog is in large part meant to chronicle that. Hopefully you don’t mind coming along for the ride… it keeps me honest!
4. Failure hurts, but the comeback is ever so sweet. I have dealt with lots of failure in my first 35 years. Some failures were colossal, others tiny. Some of the tiny failures continued to occur and created something even worse. But in failure, I have found success. The lowest day of my life may well have been the day I was told I did not get the teaching job I had sought after and dreamed of. I helped the teacher who got the job instead of me help unload his stuff into the classroom I had hoped would be my own, and felt such despair that I wondered if I could make it to Monday of the next week. I went home that weekend thoroughly depressed. How could I have worked that hard, for that long, sacrificing all that I had, and not get exactly what I wanted? Never had I felt so low. Sometime over that weekend, I let go of my lament, and I purposed in my heart to continue to do my absolute best, day after day, and see what happened. Prior to that, I would have just given up on my dreams – another one bites the dust. But I knew this failure HAD to be temporary, so I got back up and pushed onward. I ended up getting hired a few months later, and now live my dream of teaching incredible students in an amazing school each and every day (with a 30 second commute and lots of free artwork as an extra benefit). I don’t know why I had to fail, but I am wholly sure it made success so much sweeter.
I don’t know what the next 35 years has for me, let alone the next 5. Shoot, by the time I am age 40, I can only imagine the artwork students will be creating to feature the bald, chubby, silver haired version of me. One thing I have come to grips with is that I recognize that the amount of time I have is finite, and I need to make the most of it. The numbers still don’t matter to me, but I am hoping that each birthday going forward will be a time of reflection wherein I realize I gave my best for others, sought help where needed, LIVED the moments and captured them forever in my mind, and never, ever, ever gave up.