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from the horse's mouth

Something came to mind just now - an old song called “Bobby McGee.” It was a popular song, and even though it was a rather sad song, in a way, it also celebrated the freedom and the easy-going open-heartedness of being young in the 70’s. The lyrics said:

“Freedom’s just another word for
Nothin’ left to lose.
Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free.
Feelin’ good was easy though
when Bobby sang the blues.
Feelin’ good was good enough for me...
Good enough for me and Bobby McGee."

And the song tells of hitch-hiking across the country, singing songs to the rhythm of the windshield wipers in the cab of an 18-wheeler in the rain, and made it sound like a beautiful adventure. Those are the thoughts and ways that only go with youth: feeling happy without having goals or commitments, with just the infinite road of life opening ahead of us.

Youth was a wonderful time in my life; I liked it a lot, and so I stayed there a long time. Although I never hitch-hiked out of town, I did do some traveling across the country, and I too sang some blues with friends and fellow journeyers, as we discovered whatever adventures life presented to us along the way.

Childhood was short. I had to fend for myself very early. It was a lonely and hungry time, so I got out of it as fast as I could. In my travels there, I did not have an itinerary or any reliable map. Much of the time, I followed whatever path my feet were on, and I went wherever that went.

Adolescence was, as adolescence usually is for all of us: confusing, insecure, surprising, with unexpected new passions and scattered storms. But by the unimaginable grace of God, I received a new home and family, and a safe harbor there. Then came “young adulthood” a.k.a. youth, and although I still hardly had a clue, whatever blunders I made I learned how to recover from, and life and adventure went on.

Now I am entering a new stretch of the journey that I find almost as perplexing and mapless as adolescence was. A few days ago I realized (to my surprise and shock) an obvious but relatively unnoticed truth: more of the road is behind me now than in front of me. This is the stage of life we politely call “maturity.” You’re not old yet, but clearly well-past young.

Some lives are cut short; we cannot know why. The only way to stay young forever is to leave the earth early, as did the young woman who sang that song, Janis Joplin, and another brilliant contemporary of hers, Jimi Hendrix. But every one of us who is blessed with a long life will encounter the unexplored territory of our lives called aging.

Sometimes it surprises me that I am still here, when some of my contemporaries are not. I guess it’s just taking me longer to do what I came here for, and I’m still not even sure what that is. I can only say that I am glad and grateful to be here.

There are a lot of things nobody told me about this "maturity" thing. For example, like adolescence, it begins rather abruptly, just when you thought it wasn’t going to happen to you. And also like adolescence, there are some unexpected body changes you’re not so crazy about. And I notice that people have started treating me differently as my face changes. This is an especially perplexing surprise, since I am the same person, only more so. Some of their expectations seem very odd to me. I am not what they expect me to be; I am me.

I think I’ll go to the library or the bookstore and seek out some inspiring books by others who have taken this road before me. People I admire, people who made a difference in some way. I know it’s important to read wisely, and to avoid the blind assumptions and the stereotypes of aging of the last two generations. It’s a different world now; we are different than our predecessors, and I thank God for this.

Also like adolescence, this too is a new challenge: to deal with all these changes in our world, our bodies, our thoughts and feelings, and in the images people will try to cast onto us. Once again we must create our own image of our new self, and figure out what it is and what we want it to be.

I still ride my bike up and down the canyon, a thing virtually unthinkable for my age a generation ago. Though I don’t ride as hard, or as fast, I don’t particularly need to, now. I have nothing I need to prove to anybody, which is a very nice feeling really. I work out at the gym, but my goals are less strenuous and also less cosmetic.

What shall I do with this new passage in my life-journey? I am finding lately that my thoughts are deeper, and my love for people and for God’s world is a deeper and wider circle than it was at any other time in my life. The biggest change though, is a quiet but strong desire, to do something good with the talents and gifts I’ve been given, that I’ve gathered along the road. That’s not to say I haven’t been giving something all along, but up until now, it was not really a conscious thing. Now it is both a desire and a need, and it is a growing intention.

I don’t know if everybody feels this, but I think most people probably do. It stops being a quest for "getting things" anymore, but instead for finding our own way for "giving things" back to life. There have been metaphors written about “the harvest time” of life, referring to maturity and age. The old bestowing their gifts of “wisdom” onto the young (who usually don’t get it till later in their own life journey anyway.) Yes, I remember how I loved learning from the old folks when I was just a green young thing; they had the best stories to tell.

But interestingly, as I age, I notice that I am not so much teaching, as learning. And so, some of the wisdom I’m gathering is bound to fall and scatter around me, like sparks from an open campfire. Yes, it's a lot like that. I am seeing more now, understanding more, and sharing it is easier because I don’t have to package it and sell it. It just scatters its light like the sparks from a campfire rising in the warm air into the night sky. All we really have to do is be like that, and let our light be there. Those who need it will draw near to receive it.

So it’s not really for the world that I write what I write. It’s for me - I'm finally "getting it" that writing down the words, saves them. It feels good to share with words, what I am discovering. It's the natural cycle of receiving and giving. Something moves through us when we do that. The Life-Spirit moves through us. Anyone can take what they want, use what they need, and leave the rest. And if they find it useful, pass it on.