The other day, my friend was reminiscing about her days as an athlete. “I would run the bases so fast my arms were windmilling to keep me upright and running in the baseline. I was incredibly fast.” My friend is not prone to exaggeration, so I believed her. She sighed. Now the two of us, each on the other side of fifty, struggle a bit with weight, bad knees, and a variety of other ailments often associated with people our age who have largely sedentary desk jobs. While we’ve been making concerted efforts to get in shape, she knows that her days of flying around the bases during a softball game are likely over. And I, who didn’t have any formal athletic endeavors other than intramural softball in college, a long, long time ago, can scarcely remember what running the bases even felt like. But rather than allow us to devolve into a lamentation about all the things we were unlikely to ever do again, I looked at her and said, “Well, that was then and this is now. I say we embrace what’s true right now.”
It took me a long time to let go of the idea that I was never going to win and olympic medal in track and field, especially since I never had the opportunity to run track in high school and never bothered to try in college. I made a decision several years ago that also meant I was not going to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter, although in that case I actually did have to talent to have potentially achieved some success. Yes, I was pretty good at the time. I can look back on a choice I made a few years back that altered the trajectory not only of my life, both that of my children’s lives.
If I were to stand on a metaphorical hilltop and scan in all directions, 360 degrees and look down at various scenes my life, the actions I took, the decisions I made, the roads not taken, the diversions, roadblocks, and detours, the people I met, those I hurt, those who hurt me, and all the dimensions of my existence, I suppose I could choose to mark each of those pivotal passages with regrets and sorrow. Or, I could choose to embrace what’s true for me right now, in this life.
The other day I found myself grumbling to myself a little bit. “I’m old,” I complained to my sister, “I’m about to turn 60. How in the heck did that happen?” The truth is that inside I still feel like I’m 30, but the aforementioned creaky knees and little nagging pains here and there quickly remind me that I’m not. It’s a true exercise (as in requires exertion) for me to let go of all the “woulda-coulda-shoulda’s” that bombard me when I take that 360-degree view of my life and wonder what might have been if I’d followed up on that idea, pursued that dream, said no instead of yes. It takes an effort to look at my reflection (and see my mother looking back at me) and see the imperfections and marks of life displayed there and be pleased with what I see. It requires discipline to express genuine pleasure at the good fortune of another person that I secretly wish had been visited upon me.
And yet I must look at this life with generosity and gratitude that I would extend to any other person struggling with the same affliction. All those twists and turns and roads not taken have led me to this moment wherein I now find myself. Is it perfect? No. My life, like my reflection has imperfections, scars, and blemishes that tell a story of who I am and where I have been. And for all of that, life continues to be full of blessings and unexpected surprises (like recovering from heartbreak and learning to open myself to love again after previous “failed” relationships.)
These 40 days of reflection offer a good opportunity to embrace what’s true for each of us right now. If you were to climb up to the top of your hilltop (or look out from the observation deck of the empire state building or any other vantage point that offered you a clear 360-degree view of your life, can you look without flinching and open your arms wide to who and where you are right now? It’s a daily opportunity offered to us. It a muscle worth flexing and strengthening in the days ahead. And so it goes.