I am 47 years old. I turn 48 late this month.
I haven’t been someone who has ever given too much weight to birthdays or the passing of the years. But this year my impending birthday is hitting me some. I’ve really not thought too much about age until very recently, but at some time in your forties you may just feel you’ve fallen off a cliff.
What happens is first you realize you’ve fallen off a cliff. And then you realize you can’t fly.
Maybe then you catch some air, and you think you can fly: Hey, I can fly!
Maybe you actually fly then.
Maybe you don’t.
Actually, someone recently suggested jumping out of a plane together. Yup.
I was totally going to do it, too. Don’t tell my gastroenterologist.
I suppose each life event, each marker, is marked itself by the context of the other life events and circumstances occurring around it.
In our happiest times these markers shine. They are imbued with both the preciousness and warmth of the present moment and present life — they are presents, indeed — and the anticipatory richness and promise of what’s to come, making them deep, true celebrations.
Every day is like that during these times, actually. Every day is celebration.
And, if we’re very lucky, we reach a place in time, relationship, trust, and love where this is the preponderance of our life.
If we’re a little less lucky and a little more typical, though, at other times birthdays, like various major holidays, can accentuate absence — what’s missing and at least equally an absence of promise.
This is natural, for the most part for most people, sometimes cyclically, sometimes for prolonged phases or periods of our lives or the lives of the people we love. These times can be sad, yes, or worse, and they also can be reflective and regenerative periods. Sometimes they’re not, and sometimes you don’t really know what a period actually is until you’re out of it.
Doors slide. 47 turning 48 wouldn’t seem to be one of those markers, a time for profound change of one sort or another. But life happens, and for me, this year, it is impactful.
The thing about sliding doors is they keep sliding. Opportunities, life paths, open and you see possibilities you hadn’t even imagined as thought forms or as dreams. Sometimes you walk through and live those dreams. Sometimes the doors close. There are losses, then, including losses of possibility and the closing of certain futures, which can be profound and enduring in feeling, the losses as enervating as the possibilities were energizing.
We all have loved ones who are engaged with, right now, physical pain, emotional pain, loss, loneliness. And we all have been touched by these, so we can empathize, even when we’re in happier places.
I’ve been thinking about the fragility of perception a lot lately. Well, maybe for decades. I’ll try to avoid classical philosophy references, since I’m not that good at them and they would likely lose even more blog traffic than my occasional poetry posts.
On a birthday, as every other day, one’s perception of life context affects everything. The same events occur, and we view them completely differently. Or different events occur because we participate in their creation with the biases of perception and possibility we bring to everything.
I’ve not been finishing my edit of the complete Byron Katie interview I promised on social media to post on this blog. I’m really quite good at Katie, usually, but I’m guessing I’ve wanted to avoid engaging material I largely really believe — with exceptions, but still — and for which I’m coming up short right now and probably choosing to exactly because I don’t want to give up hope and end possibility. And lose love.
Anyway, in that interview or maybe before or after it, without looking at it to be exactly correct but from memory, she said a sentence or two that I try to remind myself about now and again, when they’re not actively living in me. Katie teaches questioning your thoughts, but what I love is that she even questions her questioning: “Maybe I’m wrong,” Katie said to me, approximately. “I could be wrong.”
This notion runs fundamentally counter to our reinforcement culture, in our typically homogeneic local communities and selected friends and what we expect from them and from family; in social media, of course; and consequently, as these are the places in which we overwhelmingly now live and learn, in our own minds, as well.
We all — well most of us, at least, and certainly including me — make bad choices sometimes, have wrong perceptions, give uncharitable interpretations. Usually, commonly, we then seek evidence to reinforce our misguided ideas, thoughts, judgments, and choices. We believe what proves us right and seek and interpret information and experience that justifies and in fact effects conformity with our biases, even at the cost of love or family or true calling.
Still, the possibility of reinvention or reclaiming is always there for us, of making a better choice and moving forward into our best life. The life we are born to live is a choice and a constant creation and, when we choose with others, a shared co-creation.
There’s a book I always keep on the top right of my main living room bookshelf: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. It’s a good book, but I keep it there just so I see the title as a reminder when I need it. (The also-useful subtitle, Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, didn’t earn a spot on the spine.)
What I want to emphasize is not so much that this perspective — “Maybe I’m wrong; I could be wrong” — is the starting point for wisdom. Of course it is and has been across traditions and time from Socrates (whoops) to Katie.
I want to emphasize that it’s often the starting point for happiness.
Our self-defense — my self-defense — isn’t just impeding truth. It’s impeding happiness for ourselves and others.
And our skewed perceptions — my skewed perceptions — impede kindness even when we’re trying to be kind, openheartedness when we’re trying to be charitable, and lovingkindness when we’re trying to be loving.
Yet, because we constantly are reconstructing not only what our lives are and have been but what they can be, much opportunity resides here for new vision, imagination, and possibility, as well as simply truer desire.
A starting point is to build life cornerstones and connections that help us shift and open our perspectives to be kinder, more loving, and more charitable. We seek truth in home and family. We choose our home and family, and, if we’re lucky, they choose us. And then we extend our circle of trust. I hold on to my son Nicholas, and he, bless him, holds on to me. I call my girls up and tell them I love them. I seek out smart, kind, longtime friends who will tell me when I’m wrong. I need them. And then, when they tell me I’m right, I trust them on a far deeper level; even then my friends are quick to counsel lovingkindness, charitableness of interpretation and spirit, and patience. (I’m worst at that last one.) Their values and character explicitly inform and improve my own; I recognize that often and can see it even just by looking at the key words I have repeated in this post. I try to engage community, supporting others but also allowing for my own vulnerabilities and my need for support, which I receive from some very special people.
We deepen connection, which supports in good times and harder times. What connection means, as I’ve learned much more so recently than I’d understood before, is more personal and individual than I ever knew — what’s powerful for one person may be less so, or at least more transitory, for someone else, including in what’s shared. You learn that lesson, and then, if life unfolds a certain way, you learn it more deeply. And it aches even more deeply.
But, still, that rich tapestry of love and support deepens all our experiences, including our losses, and hopefully helps us continue to recognize doors, new ones or doors re-encountered and opening once more.
I will have a happy birthday this year. I don’t actually have a choice: a few years back it suddenly became significant to my son. He has an almost Italian, or maybe a general European, sensibility about the importance of birthdays, and so he tries to take responsibility for making sure mine is joyful. I help ensure it is, because it makes him so very happy — he beams — when I tuck him in that night and thank him and that, in turn, is important to me and a very special birthday gift.
I, too, will keep trying to re-engage and build connections with loved ones and community. Maybe try to build new friendships and relationships and renew slightly distant ones, if mutually chosen, as well.
And I suppose I’ll finish Katie tonight and schedule it for posting.