I had another birthday this week. Yesterday, to be precise. OK, if you insist on knowing, I’m now 79 years old.
When I was younger, I never thought about eventually reaching 79. To be honest, I never thought about reaching any age other than what I already was. I didn’t know anyone who had lived to 79; I thought of anyone older than my parents as having one foot in the grave, waiting for the banana peel.
But here I am, living evidence that Canadians are living longer. During my lifetime, the average Canadian life expectancy has gone from 61 years to 82 years.
My friend Ralph Milton says that there’s no secret to longevity; you just have to keep on having birthdays.
I thought about trying to summarize what I’ve learned over my years. Then I realized several things simultaneously.
First, I’d have to write a book.
Second, I don’t want to write a book.
Third, I haven’t learned that much anyway, and what I have learned is already out of date. My granddaughter looked at me in disgust, saying, “Grandpa! You bought a BOOK to learn how to use an iPad?”
More and more, I resonate with a short prayer written by Dag Hammerskjold, Secretary General of the United Nations before he died in a plane crash in Africa in 1964: “For all that has been—thanks. For all that will be—yes.”
I wasn’t always grateful “for all that has been.” We’ve had difficult times. I’ve made some mistakes. If I could, I would love to go back and undo them. But I can’t. And if I did, I would be a different person today. I’m the product of my mistakes and failures as well as of my successes and achievements.
But I am genuinely thankful for being here. I’m happy to be me.
At the same time, I can’t say I’m looking forward to “all that will be.” Life is still good—in many ways, it’s better than ever—but I don’t have the stamina I once did. I know that aches and pains will multiply. Hearing and smell already suffer; other senses may also decline. As I age I will have to give up some long-held dreams, but I may benefit from giving up some self-delusions. I will grieve the loss of friends—assuming I outlive them. And of course I fear succumbing to dementia, chronic illness, disability…
“Are you ever troubled by depression?” my doctor asked during my recent annual medical check.
“No,” I said instantly And then, reconsidering, “Yes.”
“It happens to most people your age,” he explained. “Eventually, you realize that you aren’t going to live forever.”
I don’t know how long I have left to live; no one ever does. I might have 15 years; I might have 15 minutes.
Even if I don’t welcome whatever’s coming, I’m confident that I can accept it. Life will continue to offer moments of awe and wonder, loving relationships, joys, discoveries, insights, satisfactions…
I don’t expect to go out with a bang. I refuse to go out with a whimper.
And so on my 79th birthday I can say, with Dag Hammerskjold: “For all that will be—yes.”