Sixty had been coming for a long time, but along the way it went through a few transitions. Growing up in the ’60s, the thought of being sixty seemed impossible. We were convinced that if our parents didn’t blow the world up, they would surely poison us. I guess our generation lost that hotshot save-the-planet attitude somewhere along the way. Looking back, it seems that the changes those old folks made like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Keep America Beautiful campaign actually helped. Looking around, it seems like we are willing to turn the clock back on the environment. But this isn’t about environmental policy; this is about my recent birthday.
Thirty. Thirty was the much hyped dangerous milestone for our generation. That barrier was hard enough to imagine but when I crossed it I quickly learned that there was nothing inherently untrustworthy about me. Then again, maybe that’s when my generation started sliding into a “what’s in it for me?” mentality – an unfortunate tag that seems to characterize us even more than rock and roll. Maybe that was what we were afraid of, what we would become.
At thirty, getting to sixty still seemed an unbearable journey, but it wasn’t scary. I was half way there and the world hadn’t blown up, the air and the water were getting cleaner and I had a job. From pollution to nuclear weapons to unemployment to a Prime Rate of 21.5% (Dec 19, 1980); we had stepped away from the brink of danger.
Like many in my generation, my 30’s involved becoming a parent. It also involved understanding that my parents hadn’t been stupid. Unfortunately, I was still in my twenties when I lost my father to an untimely death. Coming to terms with his passing was made a little easier by realizing that he had accomplished most of the things he wanted to do. I just wish that he had had more time, time to enjoy himself after a life of hard work, time to meet his 2nd granddaughter and time to pass along more of his wisdom. I have had to glean that wisdom from his early lessons and from conversations with my brother.
I think the combination of events surrounding my 30th year also taught me that life can’t be measured in decades. Life is about moments, not years and certainly not clumps of years. If I measured my life in decades, they would be filed under the headings of “meh” “stuff happened” “we survived” or “bad decisions made” “good decisions made.” Those terms would be meaningless averages at best and mere metadata at worst. To say that I remember being a parent in my 30’s overlooks the big picture – that I am still a parent and that I’m still someone’s child. It also overlooks a thousand little pictures – my daughter learning to ride a bike – building a treehouse – my wife baking bread and cookies – decorating our house for the holidays – owning a pickup truck. Technically, I owned two trucks for almost a decade apiece, but they were each a rolling collection of moments.
The summary of my 20’s would simply read: “it ended well” giving no clue to the myriad stories trapped between “what have I done?” and “so much better now.” My 20’s included two college educations, two cross-country relocations, four (almost five) jobs, a failed marriage and a true love found. There is no way to blend those ingredients; they all need their own space. They are individual stories. Some may never be told, but none will be forgotten.
In addition, each story
is a thread in the sorry, that was heading toward a cliché, not a bad one, but a cliché none the less. Those stories deserve better. Those stories are unique. Individually, some of the stories are funny. Some are sad. Some are life lessons (that’s become a cliché, but it’s still in my tag line so it’s OK) and some, well I haven’t figured out what some of them mean. Some are still too painful to think about for very long and I glossed over others when I tucked them away, unaware of the lesson or the meaning they hold.
is was no big deal. As they say, “it beats the alternative” but in many ways, it’s just another marker. My mother will be 90 in April, which seems like an impossible feat to accomplish. Here we go again.
Pictures – During my 60th (and her 30th) year on earth, my daughter and I attempted a photo-a-day project. Ironically, the event began and ended at a Chili Cook-off at the company where Faith works. The top picture is the final picture in my set. The middle picture is Faith standing at the shore of Lake Erie. I watched that lake become polluted to the point of us not being able to enter the water due to the mass of dead fish. Today, it is cleaner than I remember it ever being. The next photo is Faith supervising the building of a “tree house” playscape. I think she was saying “build it higher please!” The final picture is the sign at the church where my mother was a member for 75 years until she moved to Iowa.