Thursday, March 24, 2011

You Are All Getting So Old!

I still have this natural habit of assuming that if a person is an adult, they are older than me. Especially if they are accomplished in any way. Or if they are somebody like my doctor. Or if they have adult children. But it isn't true. There are all these grown-ups out there who are younger than me. How did that happen?

I originally posted the first paragraph as my Facebook status, and then I thought, "this is a good topic for a blog." How did all the adults suddenly become younger than me? Aside from my health issues, I don't really feel like I have changed in the last twenty years. On the other hand, if I reflect on it, there are plenty of things that have changed.

I was a lot smarter twenty years ago than I am today. I was definitely more sophisticated when I was 28. But its different now. I've grown both older and younger at the same time.

Getting married was obviously the biggest change. I lived, studied, traveled, earned my advanced degrees, and even began teaching. I had a pretty good grip on the world.

Then I got married.

I say this with no regret or nostalgia for the "freedom" of my youth. On the contrary, getting married was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was 33 years old when I got married, but I never thought much about the fact that many of my contemporaries had already been married ten years. My wife was 29. So we were a little older than some, but it seemed like nothing.

Then came the kids.

As the kids grew older, I began to feel "younger" and "older" at the same time. When I was in my twenties, I strutted about discoursing on theoretical topics, smoking my pipe, and feeling every bit as learned and erudite as a man in his fifties. Now, as I approach the age of 50, I am herding children about like a man in his twenties. I feel younger at heart. (I wish I felt younger in body.) And after 20 years of both practical life and further study and consideration, I have come to realize that I know a great deal less about reality than I used to imagine.

God, man, and the universe are less complicated and more mysterious than I realized in the old age of my youth. I am more inclined to wonder than to discourse. I am ready to listen, to ask questions, to ponder, and then to judge what is true, in the measure in which I can. When I cannot be certain, I must venture a hypothesis and try to verify it without the fear of being thought ignorant. I am much less interested in being considered learned and erudite and much more interested in what is the truth. Plato thought that a man could not really be a philosopher before the age of 50. I have finally come to realize, at the age of 48, that he is right. With regard to wisdom, I have not yet been born.

And I am young in front of the mystery of life and the mystery of God's plan for me, which unfolds one day at a time, and has many twists and turns that I cannot anticipate, but must be prepared to engage, accept, or even suffer. I think my prayer is beginning to become more simple, something closer to "thy will be done."

I also feel young because I have a young family. Many of my peers have adult children and some are even grandparents, whereas my oldest is not yet 14 and my youngest is just four. So I can still trade barf stories with parents who are twenty years younger than me, whereas I haven't had REAL teenagers yet. I sometimes worry that I am too old for them. I pray that God will give me the health and the years to see them through the trials of their adolescence, and to see the discovery and the fruits of their vocations in life. I do not want to abandon them in their youth.

But this is something that can only be entrusted to God. I know this much: my children, right now, this day, need me as their father. All of me, including all my hopes for the future, which are encompassed in a greater abandonment and trust.

And all you kids out there who have grown up to become my doctors and my priests and the parents of my kids' friends--I am glad to have you as companions on our common journey.

In eternity we shall all be young.