September 1, 2017

Vagabond Traveler: Fifty-Six Years…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:32 pm


It seemed to him that all man’s life was like a tiny spurt of
flame that blazed out briefly in an illimitable and terrifying
darkness, and that all man’s grandeur, tragic dignity, his heroic
glory, came from the brevity and smallness of this flame. He knew
his life was little and would be extinguished, and that only
darkness was immense and everlasting.

—Thomas Wolfe

I never paid much attention to the date as it snuck up on me. Well, I kind of glanced at it sideways, now and then, as the shadows of the day lurked close. But still. It just was what it was, and it would be what it would be. I didn’t figure it would hit me hard, like it did. But it did. Last week, I turned fifty-six.

And what’s the big deal about that? One might ask. Indeed. Every day, lots of people turn fifty-six. Well, I was surprised. And a little shocked, at the emotions that came rolling through me like a flood. I’ve lived intensely. And there were a few close calls, along the way, where there was a pretty good chance that I would never see that day.

And I thought about it, the night before. I felt pensive and a little sad. It had been a long time since it closed in on me like it closed in that night. It had been a long time since I felt as alone as I felt that night.

And now, now the day had arrived. Fifty-six. It’s a completely harmless number. I mean, there is little specifically attached to it, one way or the other. Still, I could feel the weight of it, heavy on me. And that day, I felt old and tired. You’re as young as you feel, the saying goes. Well, I feel my age.

A part of it, I think, is that I can look back to the past and clearly remember my father when he was my age. At fifty-six, he had just uprooted his family, and moved from Aylmer to Bloomfield. At fifty-six, he had a seething young son, who had just turned sixteen. At fifty-six, the old lion and the young lion faced each other, and prepared for battle. And the young lion prepared to rebel, to break free, to go out and wander the earth. That’s what my father saw when he was exactly my age. It’s all just a bit jolting, to absorb. At least, for me, it is.

When he was my age, my father was a giant among his people. He had seen so much, he had felt so much, he had lived so much. And he wrote what he saw and felt and lived. In his own voice, he did that. And in a strong sense, I guess, I feel honored to have lived as many days on this earth as my father had seen in a time that I clearly remember. Fifty-six. I feel it, every day of it. I have not seen and lived the things my father saw and lived, but I have walked a lot of miles. I have felt my full number of years, I have seen hard roads. And I feel tired and alone.

My actual birthday was pretty much uneventful. Most of my siblings called, and I got most of them answered as I was working. A short few minutes to chat with each one, as they wished me a happy day. We call each other on our birthdays. That’s my family, right there.

Titus called from Bloomfield. We got to talking. I told him. I’m a little awed, to think that I have seen as many days in life as my father had seen when he moved his family from Aylmer to Bloomfield. I guess the next generation always encroaches, as the old generation fades away.

And my older brother Joseph called, too. The Amish preacher. He lives in Kentucky. After wishing me a happy day, he told me. He had been up to Aylmer, to see Dad, a few weeks back. How was he? I asked. “He seemed well, for his age,” Joseph said. And I asked. Did you stop to visit David Luthy? Yes, he had. How is he doing? As well as could be expected, Joseph thought. He is old, now. And living alone. And I asked another question. Did you preach, at church? Yes, he had preached. And we talked about it. Because of his health issues, he has to kind of prop himself up behind a chair, to stand. When he no longer has the strength to do that, when he has to sit down to preach, that’s when he’ll be done. That’s what Joseph told me. I thanked him for calling. We hung up.

Bouncing around now, and looking back to another place and time. Ten years ago, I had just started this blog. I had been writing for a mere few months. And I turned forty-six that summer. That seemed old. And here are some excerpts of what I wrote back then. At forty-six.
And so, at forty-six, I take stock. Personal life: Holding on. Marriage: A shambles. Job: Good. Health and diet: Better than ever as an adult. Fitness: Better than ever. State of mind: Fluctuating. My faith: Lord I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

In the wreckage-strewn fog of recent events, I consider and weigh the circumstances now surrounding me. Once more, a new stage has begun. It has been set for some time, and the curtain rises. It reveals one more road to travel. One more fork on that road. Choose. To the right or to the left. And then, a thousand more choices, or none at all, which is in itself a choice. Forty-six and alone. Again. Like I’ve been for most of my life.

Every life is laced with sorrow and loss and broken dreams. Circumstances vary from person to person. Each journey is distinct. Each destination, a choice.

The people that comprised my world as a child are now scattered to the winds. Or have passed on. I think back on some of my earliest recollections and remember. The colors and the smells and the tastes. The characters, floating in and out of my mind through the fog of years, the parameters of that childish world, so provincial, so confined, yet so vivid and alive. And always, it seemed to me, as my awareness and imagination increased with age, that I was simply an observer, a chronicler, and not really a participant in that world.

I can tell you the story, I can sing you with words, I can soar you to the heights, I can lament to you a tale of lost time and past worlds. I can tell you of life’s culmination in suffering, knowledge and death; the plower plowing, the sower sowing, and the reaper reaping. I can weigh the cost to the last tenth-ounce, a father’s angry and unspoken sorrow, a mother’s silent pain to the last teardrop, the unutterable heartbreak of a wounded child.

I can tell you of betrayal so deep it stabs to the core of the heart, of the foundation of years brushed aside like so much dust, of pain so keen it numbs the brain, of walking amid ruins enveloped by dust and ashes and fog and noise. I can tell you of doubts and fears and regrets that could haunt a man to his grave.

I can tell you the sound of thunder and rain in soggy fields and the sound of cornstalks crackling as they grow from black river bottom on a muggy summer night, of the pale shadows cast by the harvest moon over stubbled fields and shocks of grain. I can tell you the particular slant and warmth of the summer sunlight and the feel and texture of the ancient and massive boulders beside our barn’s loft ramp. I can tell you the people and places and events that I have known and lived. I can tell you of life from the eyes of a wondering child, the wild stirring passions of an agonized youth, the hopeless quiet despair of a restless and deeply frustrated man.

I can tell you things that have never been told.

But, as I look back and reflect, I realize that the singer hasn’t sung, the chronicler hasn’t chronicled, the lamenter has internalized his lament, and joy was absent. And that cannot and will not stand.

The gifts we have will disappear if not honed and used, and I have not used my talents for far too long. For many years, I could not find my voice. But the words are there, inside, where they’ve always been. They may be a bit rough and uncut at times. The tune may be flat in spots and the melody dissonant.

But the voice is forming. It’s not too late.

I will move forward. The voice is forming.

And it will sing.
And there it was. My voice at forty-six. At that time, I had posted twenty blogs. Been writing for less than half a year. But still. I knew instinctively. Whatever was inside me was going to come out. I knew that. And I look back from here, from fifty-six. I did sing. My story was my song. I told some things that had never been told before. I could not have imagined the journey of the book, twenty weeks in. But I knew that I would write my story. Somewhere. Right here, on the blog, if nowhere else.

It’s funny. I thought I had seen all there was to see, back then. All the dust and ashes and fog and noise any person would ever get to walk through. I was very naive. Today, I got so much turmoil swirling around me, about things I thought I knew, but obviously didn’t. But I’ve seen and learned a lot of good, life-altering things, too, in the last ten years. Bottom line. The Lord is who He claims He is. I walk along, clinging to a mustard seed of faith. It’s been a wild journey. I’m sure it will continue to be.

The Lord has shown me so many good things, so much I could never have envisioned. And yeah, I have meandered down my own paths, way too often. Kind of drifted off. When I’m on the wrong road, I usually walk until I smack into a wall. Then I stop. Look around, kind of startled and surprised. Then I look up. Umm, Lord, I guess you don’t want me going this way. OK. My bad, It was a wrong choice. Show me the right road.

His response is always gentle and composed. Do not be afraid. You are my child. You will never not be.

And so, at fifty-six, I take stock. Down the list, like I did ten years ago. Personal life: There’s some heavy fog out there. Marriage: It went away, long ago. I’m alone. Job: Good. Health and diet: Needs work. Fitness: Definitely drooping. State of mind: Relatively calm, from experience. There’s not much I haven’t seen. My faith: A mustard seed. Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.

There’s been a fog in my head, the last while. I just can’t seem to shake it off. Can’t seem to see straight. There has been a mask for all the pain rising up from deep places. Pain that waits, latent and brooding, until some trigger wakes it up. And I’ve always gravitated to one method of dealing with pain like that. Until you don’t know why you’re even doing it anymore. And then one day you wake up. I just woke up. I’m shaking the cobwebs from my brain. And I’m looking for the morning light.

It has struck me deep again, the clarity of it all. Life is about choices. Right or wrong. And I have been going down the wrong road, lately. Still. Even that was about choices. I’m starting to see more clearly now, a new road rising.

And so, to quote myself, from ten years back. Once more a new stage has begun. It has been set for some time, and the curtain rises. It reveals one more road to travel. One more fork on that road. Choose. To the right or to the left. And then, a thousand more choices, or none at all, which is in itself a choice.

I’m fifty-six. That’s not old. And it’s not young. It’s just where I am.

I am not afraid. I’m just tired. But not too tired to keep walking. And I can’t help but wonder. Can’t help but turn the thing over in my mind.

Maybe soon another song will come.