Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who is one of my primary influences, wrote in his diaries when he was more or less my age that he thought his death was imminent. In truth he lived another ten years and died an accidental death at the age of 58. When I was younger, I used to wonder why he seemed so preoccupied with his death. By the time he was a couple of years older than I am now, he wrote that he had realized that he was not about to die. He wrote that his body was telling him not to die but to slow down. I didn’t understand that fully until very recently.
I now know that I can’t do what I used to do. For American males that is a hard pill to swallow. We have been conditioned to keep going at any cost. I certainly identified with that in the past. I would drive all night, attend three and four day conferences, and leave late at night on the fourth day to drive all night home. When I encountered an obstacle I ran it over. It was a badge of honor, a proof of my man-ness, and I was as good as anyone at it. Recently I have learned that instead of running through walls I bounce off of them. Even more recently, I have learned that is not a bad thing.
You see, when you aren’t operating “full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes” you can actually attend to what you are doing. You can give more of yourself to people by giving less of yourself to proving your toughness. You can actually be centered.
It isn’t as easy to accomplish this transition as you might think. The people around you, including many who are past the age where they too should begin to slow down, will not accept the change in you. They will continue to demand more, and be blind to the reality that what you are giving them is better than more. The only way to respond to this appropriately and with dignity is to politely continue to do what is right. The opinions of others never does anything for anyone but the opinion holder.
I now understand why so many cultures value their elders. The American culture has harmed itself greatly by rejecting the elderly and packing them away in warehouses called nursing homes. I don’t say that I am an elder yet, but I do say that I see in the elderly great wisdom and great spiritual teaching, if only we will slow down long enough and let them out of their prisons that we might hear from them on a daily basis.
I love my wife Erin more than I ever have (and she hears enough from me at home and so doesn’t read my blog, so that statement is not self serving). It is no longer a love based on either of our perfections, because neither of us are. It is a love based in the comfort, energy, and wisdom that grows from time spent together, challenges encountered, and most of all (for me anyway) finding what I have never believed I would – someone who loves me despite all my limitations; old, new, and yet to come.
So if you expect me to be somewhere and I can’t get there, that’s OK. If you are mad or have any other feelings about that, that’s OK too. I am still who I am, and you feelings or lack thereof aren’t going to manipulate me any longer, because there are some things I simply can’t do anymore. In a strange sort of way, that is a wonderful gift and there is wonderful freedom in that.
There is a spiritual freedom connected to this, and I will write more about that in a later post.