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.



  1. Glad you woke up! We should all shake out the cobwebs and look forward to the morning light!
    Thank you for inspiration, again!

    Comment by Matthew Block — September 1, 2017 @ 7:47 pm

  2. You are a noticer. You notice things and contemplate them in your head because you are a writer. Everyone doesn’t get that. There is nothing wrong with that, it is a gift. I think your fog is because you need a soulmate.

    Comment by carol ellmore — September 1, 2017 @ 8:07 pm

  3. Happy Birthday! I have found that as I age, I, too, seem to review my life and realize how short our time on this earth is. I am looking forward to your new song. Peace and all good!

    Comment by Rosanna F. — September 1, 2017 @ 8:23 pm

  4. I turned 56 several months ago myself. I know all about that health, diet & fitness drooping & needing work!!!

    About that mustard seed: that’s all it takes. Press into the kingdom.

    “About marriage: It went away, long ago. I’m alone.” Dare to hope for redemption. It is God’s habit to redeem, though admittedly we don’t know how or when it happens. But as C S Lewis noted, it is surprising when it happens. He takes the solitary and sets them in families. Concentrate on loving God, and see if he doesn’t do something surprising.

    Enough of my opinions :)

    Comment by Jay — September 2, 2017 @ 12:41 am

  5. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Ira! May our Lord bless you with many more years.

    Comment by Jane Goforth — September 2, 2017 @ 6:28 am

  6. Incredible and heartbreaking.

    Comment by Gay Racina — September 2, 2017 @ 7:08 am

  7. An outstanding blog post, Ira. On multiple levels.

    “Let Your Life Speak” is an excellent book about how reflection on our past life can help us understand our strengths and give us direction for what future work we are best suited for. Perhaps a book on “Let Your Life Sing” could do something similar from an emotional perspective. Humans were made to sing.

    Comment by Ava — September 2, 2017 @ 8:16 am

  8. Ira, all the best on your birthday. You have been bold & courageous in sharing your story until now & I’m looking expectantly into the future to hear more of that which makes you a special & unique writer of life. You are a valuable voice for your & my generation that has experienced some of the same life experiences. Until we meet again thru your blog

    Comment by p klassen — September 4, 2017 @ 3:31 am

  9. Wonderful sharing of your heart, and trusting us to love you anyway, and we do, as the body of Christ. Just continue to seek Him, and He will continue to guide your way.

    Comment by Kathy Dean — September 4, 2017 @ 3:44 pm

  10. WOW(!) I haven’t back read all your blogs, just some randomly. I’m moved to now.

    Comment by lisa — September 4, 2017 @ 7:50 pm

  11. Hi I just finished reading your book, thanks for sharing your life story with us, fascinating. The back of the book led me to this blog, again very interesting. Except I started at the beginning in 2007, and sometimes I read things that I don’t understand because they mention some event that happened before the 2007 launch of your blog. Was there another blog, is there another place, I should start instead of here? Thanks so much.

    Comment by Mary — September 8, 2017 @ 4:53 pm

  12. You’ve definitely been engaging in some seriously wistful reminiscing on your birthday, Ira. Yet there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the way you’re feeling. Birthdays can definitely send you into a crisis of contemplation. Often it’s these very crisis-ridden moments when you find yourself descending into darkness – the very place that seems to lead you back into the light of creativity. Bask in it!

    Comment by Maryann — September 8, 2017 @ 6:11 pm

  13. Ira,
    I really like your book and believe every word of it.I was in Alymer years ago, met your parents when they lived in Bloomfield,know several of your nephews, and really empathize with you on a lot of your writings. I met you in Berlin Ohio at one of your book signings once.
    Several of the Alymerites and also some Bloomfield lite were here in my house in Ohio and would love to have you come and visit. Would gladly buy you a meal if you come through here .
    Let me know… think you have my number..

    Comment by Nelson Miller — September 9, 2017 @ 9:39 am

  14. I hear you.Fragments of the old”been there,done that”song,and the volume goes up when it’s allowed to keep playing.Looking at my past actually opens the door to the future,if any knowledge was gained while living a life that sometimes should have put me six feet under.That life revealed pieces of me that otherwise wouldn’t have surfaced,brought out an inner toughness and awareness that couldn’t be gotten any other way.Thats the truth in the part of the song that goes,what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger in the end.Some wise person once wrote that if it’s done meaningfully,we will get to the point where we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.Thats where I’m at,most of the time,and it’s a great place to be..because gratitude lives there..peace to all.

    Comment by lenny — September 14, 2017 @ 11:28 am

  15. Ira I stopped by Sept 13(My birthday-much older than you) to say hello. I was worried about you after my last visit. You had that look that I had after my son died in 85. Heard you were in NC. Hope u had a good relaxing time to clear your head. I know the feeling of being in a fog and just drifting along. Had an awakening a few years ago and realized what was important in my life and planned out how to live life everyday. Its really not that hard. I have what I call “Amish peace.” Forget the past and live one day at a time. God will forgive u for past mistakes but doesn’t want us to dwell on them. Good health and may u be blessed. Theresa

    Comment by Theresa from WV — September 14, 2017 @ 12:29 pm

  16. What you wrote at 46 was pure poetry.

    Comment by Mary — September 23, 2017 @ 3:35 pm

  17. Sing on oh my soul!

    Comment by Sho — November 7, 2018 @ 8:31 pm

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