“The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose
all the other ages you’ve been.”
– Madeleine L’Engle
I’ve got a big birthday coming up next week. Fifty. Five-Oh. I’m a bit boggled by it. Frankly, it’s a lot more confronting than I thought it would be. I was much more enthusiastic about turning forty, when I declared myself the perfect age, celebrating the meeting point of vitality and wisdom. But, ugh, ten years later I can’t help but wonder if the scales have tipped; I’m not sure I’ve got enough additional wisdom under my belt to balance the depleted vigor.
Those of you ahead of me in years are no doubt, quite reasonably, shaking your heads at this self-indulgence, saying, “Come on now, you’re still young! a baby! a spring chicken!” Everyone younger than me had better be saying, “But you look amazing! So fit and foxy and fine! I never would’ve guessed your age.”
I really don’t mean to complain about it. I feel pretty darned good, actually. Nevertheless, a half-century is a milestone to be reckoned with.
It’s all fairly typical and predictable. I’m asking myself: Am I where I thought I’d be? Who am I and what have I achieved? Am I accomplished?
In some ways it seems like by 50 I really ought to have things figured out and wrapped up enough that I can coast more freely into the rest of my life without so much of the constant push. In other ways, though, it feels like I’m barely getting started. I wonder if I’ve learned anything useful at all. The world is wider and deeper than I ever imagined, and there is so much to explore with a brand new beginner’s mind… Everything’s a beginning — an advanced beginning.
I used to differentiate pretty strongly between what I viewed as amateurish versus serious professional credibility, between being a dilettante and being committed to something. And I expected that by this point in my life, I’d be firmly ensconced in the respectable latter categories — an experienced professional, an authority, an expert.
Instead, I find myself not only questioning my personal mastery of anything, but actually wondering about the degree to which I’m even all that interested in claiming such command.
I learned recently that “dilettante” comes from the same root as the word “delight.” “Amateur” comes from amare, to love. That’s interesting, right? Interesting and very appealing. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with earned experience and professional credentials, the rewards of time and commitment, I realize now that I’m much more keen on devoting myself to sheer delight, to spending my time and energy on things for the pure love of them…
Maybe this is the heart of our relationship with time, a paradox (of course) — the more years I accumulate, the less certainty needs to encumber me. The more I know, the less I presume to understand. The more I advance, the less I crave or suppose expertise.
Then again, maybe I’m just afraid of becoming a crotchety old know-it-all, so I’m overcompensating with a last stab at wide-eyed innocence, like a virgin, a little lamb lost in the wood, a dewy ingenue… Good God, who knows? I just want some frivolity and lightness, for heaven’s sake.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday, April 28. Together, as we embark into everything yet to come, everything we’re becoming, let’s commit to being Advanced Beginners through it all.
© 2019 Drew Groves