Sunday, December 11, 2016

30, 60, 90

My father is little over a month short of 30 years older than me and we had his birthday celebration on his birthday, the 21st. He was in fine fettle, even though it really looked like we were going to lose him due to prostate cancer / urinary tract blockages, surgeries, etc this last spring. He bounced back however and was able to eat an amazing amount of pizza and homemade ice cream at his party. Based on my data and my mom's roommate at the nursing home that lived to 102, I'm pretty sure that pizza is essentially the fountain of youth.

Readers of this blog know that I am blessed and cursed with a pretty decent memory. I remember well the 30-60 party back in '86 when I turned 30 and dad was about to turn 60. I was 8 years into my IBM career, married a little over a year and still childless, that would not change until March of '88.  The Challenger had exploded in January. It was the year that Iran Contra showed up and the media was certain they could finally get Reagan.

At IBM, business was good -- the IBM PC was still king, although the seeds of demise were visible. The Intel 386 processor started shipping that year, but IBM did not create a machine using it as it had hung it's hat and OS/2, the ill fated OS originally developed "in partnership" with Microsoft, on the 286. OS/2 was "a big deal" at IBM in '86 -- and would never really be a big deal anywhere else.

My Dad seemed pretty old at 60 from the perspective of 30 -- but he was still vigorous and running his farm. His two brothers and their wives were doing well, now all gone including my mom, his sister in Rockford lives on. We joked that I had been 1/30th his age when I was born, but then I was 1/2 his age -- I'd "gained" to being 2/3rds his age at this point. Fractions had been hard for him in school, and they remained so throughout his life (unless he has an epiphany in his 90's !).

Lived fractions show a reality however -- it is BOTH a relative and absolute world. Thirty years remains 30 years, as the length of both lives extend, the relative difference shrinks. If we were blessed or cursed with 300 year lifespans, I would attain 90% of my fathers age. A 30 year old has a hard time imagining long life to be a curse, a 60 year old sees that potential, a 90 year old is well aware of that reality.

Thirty, sixty, ninety are just numbers, and in our modern world, quite small numbers. "70" was a big number in biblical times -- 70x7 was a stand-in for infinity. It doesn't seem so big from 60, neither does 90, and that is impossible to understand from 30. At 30, the amount of time to 60 seemed INFINITE! It was twice my age, and the last time my age had doubled, from 15-30 seemed like FOREVER. From 60, I'd say that in "perceived time", 30-60 seems somewhat shorter than from 15-30 seemed from 30. Thirty to 90 seems shorter still.

I came close to losing my wife in my 60th year, and although her recovery is miraculous, her injury has been life changing for both of us and shows both the fragility of life, and the need to always be grateful for what you have! It only takes a second to be paralyzed ... or gone, and a second is still short at 30, 60,  or 90!

Thanksgiving was spent with family in West Bend, and at our lake place. I've come to love the "home away from home". It is familiar and "home" now, yet very different, in a way that "just going away for a few days" can't be -- it continues to become a place of solitude and reflection as well as a source of new memories with family and friends. It is easy to understand why presidents have their "retreats".

Age is both a blessing and a curse, but only the living of the years really allows that to sink in. It is one of the pieces of wisdom that can't be attained from books. We inherently understand the blessing, although the wonderful blessing of grandchildren takes living to understand. The curse is also obvious by 60 -- loved ones have passed from this vale of tears by this point, and the rate of passing in those you know starts to accelerate. You see heaven filling with loved and familiar faces, and your prayers for those who ignore or reject the infinite become more fervent.

Then there is the infirmity -- sometimes arriving suddenly as in a fall that injures your spine or a stroke. Sometimes in a diagnosis -- cancer, Alzheimers, etc. Sometimes it is in the growing circle of the younger that you love. When you were a child, mom, dad and siblings were "your world". You may have lost a childhood friend, but probably not. Sure, losing a grandparent, aunt or uncle was hard, but "normal" too.

As you age in the "old style family", you have in-laws, the in-laws have parents, children, grandchildren, close friends. Your "risk set" is expanding with grandchildren for you and others as well. When you were young, visits to hospital or funeral home tended to be rare -- for me, my maternal grandfathers funeral at age 9 is my earliest recollection. My paternal grandfather passed away before such things registered.

Now, increasingly, there is nearly always someone in your family or acquaintance in hospital or nursing home. Visitations and funerals for co-workers, church friends etc become increasingly frequent. You need to be retired to go to all the funerals and to visit those shut-in even if you are blessed with good health yourself!

As time passes, each lived age "is what it is". When we are young we have plans, dreams ... demands and "rights" even -- at least the we believe so when young. Stand next to (or in) enough hospital beds, next to enough graves, and the message of lived reality becomes ever stronger.

We are not in charge of our own next breath -- nor that of any we love. Science is also not in charge, nor government, nor anything in this earthly coil.  We live in the will of the infinite -- a loving God that wants the best in my case, or maybe a cold cruel random universe for you.

30, 60, 90 -- all infinitesimal next to eternity. Lord Jesus, thank you for this measure of life, and thank you infinitely more for the gift of eternity, offered so beautifully as the original Christmas gift!

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