Earlier this week, a momentous and somewhat traumatic event occurred in my life: I turned sixty years old! The weeks leading up to this date were surprisingly emotional for me at times, fraught with various and sundry feelings, from depression and anxiety to elation and anticipation. Part of me wanted to squeeze the last few “drops out of my fifties” during the remaining days I had! My sixtieth birthday celebration was held one day before my actual birthday, and I wondered aloud whether it was actually a celebration of the last day in my fifties! Waking up on the morning of my sixtieth birthday felt a bit like the morning of Y2K back in the year 2000. We were all wondering then if the world would end, but we woke up on January 1 to find that everything was still the same. On the morning of my sixtieth birthday, I went for a five kilometre walk and jog to Trout Lake. My limbs, bones and muscles felt the same as the day before – a little bit sore, but still working!
The Significance of Milestones
What I have noticed about this sixtieth milestone, in comparison to my fortieth and fiftieth milestones, which were special and sobering in themselves, is that there has been a special sacredness and reverence I have felt about this one. Milestones in some ways, are like the odometer hitting the 200,000 kilometre mark on your car. There’s a whole lot of zeroes that get your attention, but there’s very little difference in your car from the previous kilometre to the next! So, it is with milestones to do with our age. They get our attention because they are an invitation to slow down and to take notice. I have been aware of this sense of “noticing” in myself, and I have also been aware of it from those who are closest to me, including my wife and family, and my dearest friends with whom I walk in this journey. I noticed with deep gratitude that they wanted to slow down, and pay attention, and bear witness to this milestone. This has been very special and humbling. It has been deeply moving as I’ve read and re-read the cards, the texts, the Facebook messages, savouring the words that were written. In it all, I have felt a holy reverence, and a deepened gratitude for me, and for my life. Can I say that?
Ageing and Promise
One thing that has come to mind in all of this was the recollection of an experience that occurred when I was 30 years old, yes, now half my current age! At that time, in early 1988, I suffered a severe illness, a breakdown in my body, mind, and spirit, and for the first few months of that year, the pain and darkness was of the magnitude that I honestly didn’t believe that I would live to see the end of that year. It was during that time as I desperately turned to the Scriptures daily for hope, wading through lots of verses of “gloom and doom,” that I came across these words in Isaiah: “I have upheld you since birth, and carried you since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:3-4). As I read those words in what was an indescribable darkness, I felt that I heard these words whispered to me, “Gordie, one day you will grow old; one day you will be a grandpa…”
These words seemed too good to be true and they were very difficult for me to believe. My son, Christian, was eight years old at the time and my daughter, Danielle, was five. I clung desperately to that promise for dear life, and of course, as everyone close to me well knows, this promise came true a few years ago. It was a significant day for me when my first grandchild, Samuel, was born to Danielle and Markus here in Vancouver on July 26, 2004, and his three sisters, Annalies, Hannah, and Elina followed over the next few years, bringing indescribable joy. They all were in our house to celebrate my sixtieth birthday this past weekend.
Probably the greatest impact of that event for me was that since that time, growing old and ageing has become more about hope and promise than about dread. I sometimes review the obituary columns in the morning paper and I am often struck by how many people pass away at a much younger age than me. Without in any way diminishing the preciousness of life regardless of how long it is lived, nor the reality of life beyond death, these obituaries have impacted me with how much each day I have on this earth is a gift.
My “Top Ten Things about Turning Sixty”
Nevertheless, there is grief and loss with ageing as well, let’s not be in denial here. To help me grieve, I now resort to some humour. In the tradition of David Letterman, whose “top ten things” used to be one of my favourite segments of late night comedy, I now share my “top ten things about turning sixty…”
Number Ten: When you can’t find your eyeglasses, they’re almost always on your forehead!
Number Nine: Your failing eyesight is nature’s way of softening the blow every time you look in the mirror!
Number Eight: Your pants creep upward as you age and by the time you’re 60, you’re a pair of pants with a head!
Number Seven: Your memory is so bad you can plan your own surprise party!
Number Six: You know your way around but you don’t want to go anywhere.
Number four: When you have a party, you don’t even wake up the dog, let alone the neighbourhood!
Number Three: (my high school graduating class of 1975 are all sharing this trauma with me this year…) The best thing about being 60 is you did all your stupid stuff before the internet!
Number Two: Birthdays are good for you, it’s been scientifically proven that the more you have, the longer you live!
Number One: The candles on your cake set off the sprinkler system!
Oh, and one more… Number Zero: You’re so old that when you walked into the antique shop, they sold you!
Well, as I journey through my sixties and beyond, God willing, I hope that I do not lose the ability to laugh at myself, especially as I am increasingly confronted with the realities of my limitations.
The Vow of Stability
This past Monday night at a wonderful party that was held for me in honor of my sixtieth birthday, I shared with the festive gathering at a restaurant near Commercial and 1st in East Vancouver how that celebrating my sixtieth at that place and time was so special to me. It was 26 years ago this September that we pulled up a few blocks away from that very spot in our little K-car, having just driven from Alberta. We got out of the car and started a new life. I was 34 at the time. We moved into a little apartment around the corner, with Christian and Danielle who were 11 and 8 at the time, and Gordie Guiboche whom we knew from Calgary days.
I have since lived in this neighbourhood longer than any other place in my lifetime, all within walking distance of where we first got out of our car that day. I have stumbled onto something very special. Kathleen, my beautiful life partner and best friend has been with me all the way and this December we will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Our daughter Danielle along with her husband Markus and our four grandchildren just recently moved back to Vancouver and are living next door. I have formed so many deep friendships by being a part of the same worshiping community here in Vancouver all these years. It is an indescribable treasure to be in a community of faith that is comprised of so many of your closest and dearest friends being a faithful presence together in this city we love so much. This treasure can only be the fruit of what St. Benedict of Nursia called “the vow of stability” when he was establishing his monastic orders. Having turned sixty, I have experience a taste of this treasure and as such, I am blessed beyond all measure.