When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
Will you still need me. Will you still feed me.
When I’m sixty-four?
I’VE KNOW THIS SONG BY THE BEATLES since I was young and it’s finally coming to pass. That’s me – 64 years-old today. “There are two great days in a person’s life,” says William Barclay, “the day we are born and the day we discover why.” I am fortunate enough to know both answers: December 26, 1950, and to seek to make the world better for others.
From the time I was 20, I think my basic philosophy of life was set and I knew the goals I would pursue. The problem was having the kind of character that could live up to them. It’s taken time – years really – and I’ve come to the conclusion that my greatest accomplishment hasn’t been that I have attained them (not yet), but that I’ve never lost them. Like so many others, I often find myself at cross-purposes, or like Walt Whitman put it: “I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” But the main things I have stayed on course, despite my numerous failures.
I don’t suppose any of us are any more human than when we are creating our own path and not merely following someone else’s. All of us were born into our own narratives and only as the plot develops does it become more clear. If we don’t discover it, then life happens to us and we find ourselves confused, with no opportunity to shape our opportunities. Yet the cure for me has never been in finding answers – I’ve known for four decades what to live for – but I’ve discovered that the cure for how to live them has been in continuing to question as opposed to accepting the simple answers.
Everyone has an opinion these days, as do I, but all too often they are easily formed and unless we challenge them, they become deep-set in our consciousness and without realizing it we lose the ability to think originally. Innovations and spontaneity of thought then become almost impossible. When we end up with opinions on everything, it’s almost inevitable that our own path has become closed to us because we have been blinded by our default reasoning. We have to develop the plasticity of mind that Aristotle spoke about: “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without having to accept it.”
I suppose I’m thankful on this birthday because those goals of my youth never abandoned me. They were never based on a person or an opinion, but on transcendent values that existed before I was born and will remain for millennia after. They have shaped me by their sheer durability and comprehensiveness.
I have made one adjustment in my thinking though. Where I felt there was a path I had to follow, I now realize that I am the path itself. Through DNA, nurture, circumstance, God, grief, joy, failure, success, challenge, and community, my life has been formed and I am enjoying watching it unfold the closer I come to the end of it.
So, yes, we are each our own path and we must constantly be reminded that character is more important than direction, that inner purpose is more vital than outward success. Of course, birthdays are important, but the year we came into this world isn’t as significant as all those other years where we proved our birth wasn’t an accident, and that the years we spend building on our inner potential are far more worth celebrating. In such a context, turning 64 is indeed sweet.