This week we celebrated the 40th birthday of my dear (and delightful) son-in-law, John. He is married to my dear (and also delightful) daughter, Christina. And he is the father of our MOST dear and delightful granddaughter, Lydia.
When we started thinking about John’s 40th birthday, I asked Lydia if we should have an “Over the Hill” party, with black balloons and silly jokes about getting older. She said, “NO! Daddy’s feelings might be hurt! And black balloons are ugly and not fun AT ALL.”
In a way, Lydia is right (about her daddy’s feelings). Defining the age of forty as the pinnacle of life — that future years will be diminishingly fruitful — is not just “mean” and “not fun at all.” It is a LIE.
Recently I found this quote: “Over the hill? Actually 40 years is just reaching the end of the foothills and looking up to the snowcap mountain range just ahead.” So true! The “foothills of life” are NOT the end, but the very beginning of life’s journey. Those first forty years are a warm-up to the greatest adventure of our lives – the climb to the heights! A climb to the heights of… of what?! What are those “snowcapped mountains” that loom ahead of us?
In the physical realm, the heights “over the hill” can be our most productive years. They are the years when the mortgage (finally!) gets paid, 401K’s are growing (hopefully), and job promotions are more likely to happen.
These years can be challenging times for families. Often, they are the teen years for offspring. Years when fidelity in marriage is tested. They are marked by death-defying challenges (such as teaching your beloved teenaged son/daughter to drive!!!), and the inevitable (despite face cream ads) encroachment of aging. Definitely, these years can be likened to mountain climbing!
An interesting phenomena pops up during these “over the hill” years: late bloomers. A late bloomer can be described as someone whose talents don’t begin to “blossom” until later in life – after going “over the hill.” Here are some examples:
- Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 70! (I am sure she must have doodled a little before that!)
- Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when her first novel, Little House on the Prairie was published. She might not have put pen to paper if her daughter Rose hadn’t nagged her to write out her stories. Thank you Rose!
- (Poor) Winston Churchill became prime minister of England at the age of 65, just eight months after England declared war on Germany in WWII. What was he thinking! Oh yes. Patriotism. Stepping into the job no one else could do.
- My favorite: Teresa of Avila wrote her masterpiece, The Interior Castle, at the age of 62, while the Inquisition was scrutinizing her every word!
- Me. My first magazine article was published in 1988. I was 45. (I find it humorous that I would ever list my name after St. Teresa of Avila – a DOCTOR OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH! And yet. She is what I aspire to be – a person who did what she felt God was calling her to do, despite her aches and pains (she had migraines and tinnitus!), and her stated desire to retire to her cloister and “sit and spin.” Ok, I don’t have any desire to “spin.” But sitting – and not at a computer – would be nice! I plan to write an entire blog on St. Teresa in October, for her feast day (October 15) so stay tuned.
But, all that I just described — the achievements and challenges of life after 40 — are not really what’s alluded to in the quote I used at the beginning of this blog. What is that “white capped mountain range” that looms ahead of us?
Pope John XXIII said it best, though bluntly, in his Journal of a Soul: “I’ve got to get ready to die.” Ok. Perhaps now I’ve lost a few readers. We have such a knee jerk reaction to that word, DEATH. Maybe we don’t actually think of death as the grim reaper with a sharp scythe” out to cull us from the herd of humanity. But we act like it sometimes.
When Tom and I sat in the doctor’s office and heard the diagnosis, stage IV breast cancer, that had spread to my lungs, liver, and bones, I was too stunned to think. Neither Tom nor I remember much of what the doctor said after that – except, “The average life expectancy, with these cancer drugs, is…two years, sometimes more sometimes less.”
As I shared with you in my first blog, Walking in the Dark with the Prince of Peace, that was when Jesus Christ, that true Prince of Peace, stepped in, kicked out my fears, and filled me with the “peace that passes understanding.” And, this thought entered my mind: “Now I know what I’m to do. I am going to live the rest of my life GROWING in my knowledge and love of God, and spending quality, LOVING time with my husband, my daughters, my grandchild, my godchild, and my friends.”
Returning to our mountain climbing analogy, I think what John XIII really meant was, “I have got to put on my climbing boots!” And he did. He was sixty years old when he wrote the above entry in his journal. He died twenty-two years later, at the age of eighty-two. During those twenty-two years, he was elected Pope; he envisioned and called for the second Vatican Council; and two months before he died, he wrote his masterpiece Encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). That was some mountain climbing.
So, that’s what I did that day in the doctor’s office, and what I try to do every day: “I put on my climbing boots!
I end this blog with a poem by Robert Browning:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life,
For which the first was made.