Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum: January 2, 2013.
As the ancient peoples used to say, "I have seen many winters."
Or as I like to put it, "I have seen many Spring Trainings." [If you're scratching your head on that one, its because your not a baseball fan.]
Sigh. I can do this! As the noted American philosopher Satchel Paige once said, "Age is just mind over matter: if you don't mind, it doesn't matter" (and he was still pitching at age 60!).
I don't "mind" at all, really. (Really!) But I have been thinking about it a lot, and also about the wild, head-spinning half century that I have seen in this world, and the unique experience that has made up my own peculiar life. I may as well express some of these thoughts.
Thoughts and observations about the approaching FIVE-OH!
(1) When my Dad turned 50, I was about to graduate from college.
(2) Most Americans at this age have empty nests. They are past parenting, and sometimes even grandparents. They're itchy and looking for something to do. I'm up to my neck in parenthood on various levels, from teens to munchkins who skin their knees and cry and want band-aids for nothing.
(3) Sometimes I read blogs of millennials, and I laugh my head off when they say things like, "Gosh, I was the only person in the group who wasn't over fifty years old!" Well, let me tell you, we feel a lot younger on the inside than we look on the outside. And we still have plenty to offer. :-)
(4) I read this somewhere and thought it was funny: "Inside of every old person there's a young person trying to figure out what happened!!!"
(5) I remember my mother's 50th birthday. We went on a pilgrimage to the National Shrine in Washington DC. I was a graduate student (!). I was 26 years old, in fact.
(6) In my profession, 50 is the prime of life. Theologians and philosophers "peak" in their fifties and sixties. Everything up to now has been "youthful," "early" work. Finally, its time to get serious!
(7) I got married at age 33. The age range of my children makes me feel like I should be ten years younger. Josefina is only six years old. She has friends whose parents are pretty much half my age.
(8) Note to all those anxious novena-praying twenty-something single ladies out there: Eileen was 29 when we got married, and we have five beautiful children. You can have plenty of children in your thirties, without even having to rush. So don't give up and don't panic.
(9) Why did I wait so long? What a dummy! No, I know why. Crazy Rome, but so good, and it solidified certain things in me. Who knows? Maybe Rome is still in the future. One of my friends might become Pope (haha, that's actually not totally impossible, but, eh...I'm not worrying about that now). All my meandering turned out for the best. It shows that we have to be patient and trust God to work even through the messes we make. And now Eileen and I are going on 17 years. Time is a mysterious thing.
More advice for the single ladies club: So yeah, patience. Nevertheless, I'll give you some "silly" advice. That good Catholic young man who is your "friend"? I was a bachelor for a long time. Let me tell you a secret. There is something that every single young man wants: FOOD! Really, they want food. They don't know how much they want food. Cook for that man! I speak from personal experience; I was conquered by a loaf of exotic fresh baked bread!
I'm not being "sexist" here. Its just a fact that you are better than him at it! If you can't cook, learn! You'll learn fast, don't worry. He actually may be able to cook food very well, but he does not know how to feed himself. And he will never learn. He'll be great at cooking one thing, and he'll eat it every. single. night. Hahaha.
In any case the basic thing to remember is that the twenty-something single Catholic man is a barbarian. I don't care what he has a doctorate in, I assure you the man doesn't know what socks to put on. He is pitiful. Civilize him! If he's called to the priesthood, it doesn't matter because all he needs to wear is black. But if not, he needs you!
Haha, okay some guys know how to dress. But there is something he fumbles with in life without even realizing it, and if he's really the man for you, you will find it if you look for it. I'm not talking about wimpy guys here; I'm talking about good men. That's the key: find the things he doesn't even realize he's missing. They are signs of deeper things of the heart, and this is what its really all about. If he's truly called to celibacy, God will more than make up for it with his grace, above all in those deep places of the heart (and he'll wear black). Otherwise, he needs you!
Well, that's my advice just tossed out to people I don't know, based on my own experience and that of numerous formerly clueless single urban professional friends who are now all happily married. Meanwhile, keep trusting in God, ladies. He has a plan for you. And if its not marriage, He will use your "feminine genius" in some other mysterious and wonderful way. Be the great woman God made you to be.(10) Seriously, single men or single women, whatever your age and your competence, you are very much loved by God, and you can live your circumstances as an extraordinarily fruitful commitment. Paths of life are as unique as people. But remember, if you don't actually make a commitment to be single, God can still surprise you. He's good at that. If He does, it won't be some dreamy thing, though. It will be something that pokes you out of your comfort zone. I've seen all kinds of things. Trust and don't worry.
(11) Its beautiful to see the younger generation maturing and accomplishing things in the world, with their own experience and energy. I really enjoy working and interacting with solid adults who weren't even born when I graduated college.
(12) Really, in some ways I feel more like I'm turning 40. Of course, my forties have been a weird decade. Part of me wants to erase it from my life, but no! It was good for me. I'm leaner (literally) and tougher than when I turned 40. And I have learned that God is in charge, and that I am not smart. I'm just a poor human being. I don't know nuthin' about nuthin' and that's that. The "sophomore" period of my life is over. Am I ready to be an upper classman?
(14) People who are usually my age or older than me still: popes, cardinals, presidents, heads of state, most bishops, CEOs (other than those who head wacky companies like Facebook), grandparents, Plato's "philosopher king" (minimum age 50), ummm, ummm... great-grandparents!, and also many accomplished scholars and thinkers, especially in theology or the humanities (hey, if you make a defining contribution in these fields before age 50 you're a wunderkind).
(15) I'm grateful that I get to spend most of the day, every day, with a lively, happy 6 year old girl.
(16) Of course that means I'll be pulling my white hairs out during my sixties! ;)
(17) I hope I live a long time, with better health and some energy. Of course, I throw myself upon the mercy of God and His loving Mother, for life and -- I pray -- in my final breath, whenever it may come. Still, I have human hopes, which I try to offer with trust in God's wisdom and mercy. I want Eileen and I to be around for the kids (and grandkids). I want us to be there for them as they embark on their vocations, and into their middle age when they start hitting those big bumps. I want us to be there for them like our parents have been for us. And I want to grow old with Eileen and read poetry together, and go to Rome with her again. These are things I hope for, if it be God's will.
(18) Yes, I want to know Jesus and the joy of the Holy Spirit, and the mercy of the Father. I want to serve the Church, and build her up, and -- of course -- be part of the New Evangelization! Or, rather, I need to be newly evangelized. I need to let the Church, in all of the particularity of the people that Jesus has given to me, build me up! I need to discover the presence of Jesus in all the vast spaces of every day where I still live with a heart that forgets about God. I don't know how He will use me as a witness for others. The most important ways, I expect, will be hidden from me. May He put the love in my heart to cooperate in His infinitely discrete and tender care for others.
(19) I have a sense that I am in the midst of important intellectual and cultural work, and that it is slow, ponderous, time-consuming work. Illness has set me back, but it has also slowed me down and forced me to focus. Many people don't see how intellectual work is real work. That's probably because its so easy to fake it. Sophistry is easy. Playing around with ideas is easy. But its hard to take insights and refine them, explicate them, make them coherent, and polish away all the crudeness so that they will shine like mirrors of real beauty. If there is such a thing as "culture," something worth passing on in history, then our lifetime is only enough to cultivate a very tiny piece of it, with much labor and patience. And we must immerse ourselves in that great community of human wisdom called tradition, while also having a sufficiently rich personal experience to make our own very small contribution.
(20) And of course I want to "be a teacher," somehow. Not because I think I am wise, but because this is my calling. For the little human being, "teaching" is like leading a hike. Neither he nor anyone else in his group has ever climbed the mountain, but others have done it. It is a narrow way. The leader knows the terrain and how to navigate it. He has studied the maps. He knows which trails to follow, which rocks to climb, and he has to make sure that no one gets lost. He has learned things about the mountain, and perhaps even seen pictures. Still, the peak will grant a view that is new and beautiful for everyone.