Here’s to Forty

Back in olden times, before I ever heard of the Internet, or owned a minivan, or shared a house with four crazy kids, I was one of the youngest members of my high school class. With a birthday in late October, right before the “cutoff” for public school enrollment, I was always the last to do everything. I was last to get my driver’s license, last to register to vote, and last to have a legal beer.

It also made me one of the last to turn forty.

All year long I’ve watched as one-by-one my Facebook friends from the class of 1991 hit the big four-0. Frankly, I’m astonished that I made it. Certainly I did some stupid stuff along the way. All of that’s behind me now, thank God. I have those four crazy kids to look after. I have a wife I love dearly. So you won’t catch me out after dark. Nothing good happens after midnight anyway.

My twenties were a lonesome period. I was lost. I turned my back on a lot of things—family, tradition, common sense. I gave up on salvation. I didn’t think I deserved Heaven. Sometimes I didn’t think it existed at all.

If salvation did exist, I thought, access to it came through grace. A divine lottery. That was the most my mind could handle. And if it was all up to chance, then what was the point in being good? Mine was a very amateur theology. I thought I had actually discovered something new all on my own.

Living intensely, loving romantically, feeding hungrily at the banquet of life—this was how I imagined transcendence was attained. Expression was then the only need of my soul. I made bold pronouncements about subjects of which I was thoroughly ignorant. I was needlessly cruel—often crass as well.

Like I said, I was lost. A little boy acting the part of the big man. Thank goodness there was no Facebook in olden times. How I would have embarrassed myself.

These days I keep myself busy putting away childish things—literally. The house is overflowing with stuffed animals, board games, unfinished sketches of Buzz Lightyear, framed portraits of Lightning McQueen. It’s full of noise, shoes, laundry, laughter, and love. Staying one step ahead of the clutter keeps me out of trouble. Who has time for any of the nonsense that used to seem so urgent?

Who has time, period?

Forty years—sounds like a lot of time. Not really, though. We live across the street from a cemetery. It’s a beautiful place for a walk, but I see the dates on the tombstones. I can do the math. The luckiest get seventy-five years, maybe a little more. I’ve probably already passed the mid-point.

My mother died in 2010. Leukemia. A bolt from the blue. She would have been seventy in September. I used to send her a card every October on my birthday. Pretty clever, don’t you think? I’d write, “You are the one who should really celebrate today. After all, you were the one who did all the work.”

She loved it. Wouldn’t you? I think I’ll start my kids doing the same thing soon. My oldest will be ten in March. I was ten when my mother was the age I am now. The circle turns. Everything old is young again. Nothing new under the sun. I think I saw that on one of the tombstones.

Our little cemetery is full of stories. Love stories, some—a long-married couple buried side-by-side. Tragedies, too—babies who died in infancy. But mostly they are mysteries. Who were the people buried here? How did they live? What did they regret? Did they think they deserved Heaven?

Some stories the cemetery doesn’t tell. I used to argue with my mother about politics. What good did that do? What good comes from a mother and child bickering like that? Everyone in the graveyard votes the same.

For a guy used to being the youngest person in the room turning forty feels like a major milestone. You can tell it’s got me thinking about mortality. I sure am glad God didn’t see fit to take me back in olden times, when I was young, dumb, and running wild. I wasn’t ready to go. I guess I’m still not—I’ve got these crazy kids to raise. But I think my soul might be in slightly better condition than it was.

I still believe in grace, by the way. I’m counting on it, in fact.

Here’s to the next forty.

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