Thursday, August 04, 2011

Getting Older and Pithlesser

I'm turning 59 in five days. I've never been much into birthdays and milestones and "passages". My 20, 30 and 40th birthdays went pretty much by without any sense of "gee/wow-ness" or movement toward or away from anything. My 50th birthday was an existential awakening. I'd been through the standard Red Bugatti mid-life crisis (yeah, I really had one), divorced, blended family etc. etc. (not that all that is normal, but it is the fodder of a John Updike novel).  But even during and after all that life did not seem particularly finite or "particular" in any real way.  I walked through it with the sense of appropriate angst, guilt, shame, joy, apprehension and uncertainty that one should feel when life is all akimbo, but it was just "life".

When I turned 50 I stared at the number and it was as if I stepped outside my door thinking it was midday and saw the sun setting.  The dusk of my life was in front of me, undeniable and darkening.  No matter how I cut it, my life was more than half over, more than likely I had about a quarter of it left to me, if that.  "The days of man are as grass, as a flower of the field so he flourisheth... Our days like a spider have spun out its tale. Our years number three score years and ten, and if we be in strength mayhap fourscore years, but what is more than these but toil and travail?"  I was old enough to see the truth in that, I just never thought it applied to ME.  But on my 50th birthday it did.  My life was on the downhill slope and I was still sheet rocking and lifting heavy stuff for a living.

For 30 years I've been doing construction because my college degrees would land me a 13.00/hour job.  When you're 35 and invincible, construction is a good living.  When  you're 58 and have been doing it for 30 years it is a hard living and one false move can mean a torn tendon or ligament that will put you in bankruptcy.  The frequency of "six ibuprofen and three beer" nights increase.  You just learn to live with chronic pain, move slower and don't "be a hero"... you ask for help to lift and move stuff.  Without any health insurance and another option to buy groceries on the table you live in fear of an accident, a miscalculation, an untimely muscle spasm or just plain exhaustion that will end up in a career ending injury. 

A month ago I interviewed for a new job.  It was not just a "job", it was a new career.  Actually it is more like my original career working with "at risk" kids and families.  At 59 my youngest has graduated from high school and cosmetology school.  The Wifey has finished her teaching recertification for Arizona and found a teaching job after 30+ years of staying home with the kids.  Between the two salaries on paper it looked like we can pay our bills if I do a "side job" here and there.  I got the job.

It was somewhat of an affirmation that after 30 years in construction and pushing 60 someone thought I had something on a "professional level" to offer an organization other than repairing their drywall or building them a new office.  But the reality is, I have been self-employed for 30+ years.  It will be an adjustment to be working for "the man", punching his time card, asking him for days off and taking his allotment of vacation.  I can't just pack my tools up and go build a Church or a monastery for three weeks anymore.  I know it will be an adjustment, but I also know I pretty much HAVE to make the adjustment, just like I made the adjustment from ministry to construction 30 years ago out of necessity.

Fifty nine is a strange birthday. It has an anticipatory facet to it that is sobering in a way that actually turning 50 or 60 doesn't.  My parents are in their mid 80's and we're waiting for "the phone call" about my Dad. I'm his age when his parents passed away. I get AARP's magazine and it tells me every month that I'm on the cusp of the "retirement decade" and I have nothing.  The past 30 years have been spent on groceries, house payments, electricity, stuff to raise our kids and a trip to visit family now and then (but not nearly often enough).  The only things we have of value are memories, a wonderful bunch of kids and a couple of cute grand kids.  Everything else is a liability and worth less than we paid for it.  But in the grand scheme of things, if I make it another eleven years to three score and ten, I won't regret investing in those things instead of a 401k. 

So, here is to change.  I know there are more  changes on the close horizon that I did not apply for, cannot fully prepare for nor predict.

So, here is to having more life to remember than to anticipate.  It is an odd place but thankfully I do not find it frightening or depressing.  The dusk breaks into a new dawn and I'm looking forward in peace to the last and eternal dawn.  There's something to be said for that, even if I'm punching a time card for the man.

20 comments:

Owen White said...

Sometimes, s-p, you are the only Christian voice I can muster the stomach to listen to anymore.

Thanks for this one.

I sometimes like to remember Elisabeth Elliot's aphormism: measure thy life by loss instead of gain but then I also remember that she made a bunch of cash on speaking gigs and book deals. Yeah, she had a fairly big loss when she was young, but milked it for half a century afterwards.

s-p said...

Owen, I'm milking my past on podcasts and blog posts. Those will get me a beer if you're buying. :)

Clint said...

Well, I know the "leaving ministry for a 'real' job" transition. I think you will do well. You are in my prayers, which I suppose is the best thing I can do.

Christian Mathis said...

You will be fine. And I agree with Owen on the Christian voice. You challenge me with every post....especially the off color ones!

Fr. Sean Lotz said...

Thank you. I am solidly 49 and barely have what many of my friends and acquaintances would consider a "real job." This was quite inspiring and hope-giving for me.

Fr. Nicholas said...

I'm turning 55 in 6 days..and am in a similar rumanative frame of mind. So much water over the dam! S-p, if you are anything like what you post and say, the kids will have quite a resource in you. Most of us don't really go on to new situations because we want to, but because we must..and I think its the way God works. I have no doubt at all that you will do well.

amy said...

Wishing you a happy birthday and many more wonderful years of God's sustaining grace †

Alexander The Mediocre said...

IMO not working for "The Man" is an illusion. We always work for "The Man", but in different conditions. Sometimes "The Man" gives us some space to think that we are free, but that's just like a wild animal that you take from the zoo and put to a park: it's still in captivity, although with more space to "stretch his legs".

Just my 2 cents.

nothinghypothetical.com said...

I'm not the man I wish I was and I doubt in the next 20 years (that stand between you and I) I'll meet you where you've been, but as I look around my next-to-nothing life of trailer park and hand-me-down car I would not trade my choices. I don't know what good may come, but I've got 7300 more sets of evening prayers to find out.

Thanks for your lack of pithification.

Dana said...

Happy birthday and many years, Steve. The kids you and Mrs. R. will bless with your love in the coming months are what this season is about. May the Lord help you.

All good wishes-
Dana

s-p said...

Alexander, When people used to tell me "you are your own boss", I told them EVERY client was my boss and sometimes I had 6 bosses or more a day to please. There is no true freedom when one works to put bread on a table. You pick your job, you've chosen your chains.

Alexander The Mediocre said...

>You pick your job, you've chosen your chains.


...ain't that the Truth...

Denny Brown said...

Happy Birthday,Steve!!

Just wanted you to know that after years of listening to guys like John MacArthur,Chuck Swindoll,and others. You are trully the voice of one crying in the wilderness. I have at least one of my Protestant friends listening to your podcasts,so keep up the good work.

Denny

Darlene said...

Simply one of your best posts. I appreciate your willingness to be personal. My husband's situation is very similar to yours except that he hasn't changed careers yet.

God grant you every grace to persevere in your new profession.

Darlene said...

Simply one of your best posts. I appreciate your willingness to be personal. My husband is in a similar situation but hasn't changed careers yet.

God grant you the grace to persevere in your new profession.

Matushka Anna said...

Thank you for going "out there" to show us this part of yourself. I wish you all the best with your new job. And a belated Happy Birthday and Many Years!

You've been tagged with an award for this post:
http://prayingwithmyfeet.blogspot.com/2011/08/keepin-it-real-in-retrospect.html

elizabeth said...

realized I forgot to say happy birthday :) You and my Dad are 4 days apart to the day. How bout that? many years and excited for the new venture...

The Poor Blogger said...

After reading all the effulgent praise, I feel beholden to deflate your almost-certainly, upward-spiraling ego.

You suck. And you smell funny. And your beard has dandruff.

There. I hope you feel properly humbled and deflated. I live to serve.

PS. You have podcasts? Where? I'd kill to be able to hear your thoughts on a regular basis!

s-p said...

Poor Blogger, I'm not worthy!!!! Thank you for your humiliation, unfortunately it is all true and I cannot deny it. I will however humbly point you to "Steve the Builder" podcasts at Ancient Faith Radio for more of my humble ruminations on being me and the spiritual life.

DebD said...

I have nothing to add that wasn't already said much better by other commentors... except. Happy Birthday. May God grant you many years!