Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Time Bandit

Born on December 11, 1952 at 2 p.m. at St. Vincent's Hospital in Portland, Oregon, I turn 60 today. Some would say that six decades on the planet is a big deal. As a born skeptic, I'm not so sure. But I'm also broad-minded, so please explain your rationale, I tell them.

Sixty is indeed significant, they contend. It’s a number that is ubiquitous in our society: 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour. Even when it comes to electricity: alternating current (AC) is governed at 60 cycles per second, at least in the Western Hemisphere.

While time may be consistent and precise, aging is not. Predictably perhaps, we all age at different rates, depending on a variety of factors. As Woody Allen would ask: “Why are our days numbered and not -- say -- lettered.” They’re all so different. So in the end, it’s not so much the years in your life, but the life in your years, right?

Time, however, is an immutable force of nature: one of seven physical quantities in the International System of Units. Some view time as part of the fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension independent of events, which occur in sequence. Others say time is neither an event nor a thing, and thus is not itself measurable.

I tend to favor the latter rationale. But time, or more precisely the passing of years, is an inevitability. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, there’s not a damn thing we can do about it, for age will not be defied. Yet old age -- though loathed -- is coveted by all.

Winston Churchill said: “The young sow wild oats. The old grow sage.” So what kind of sage advice can I offer from my experiences over the years? Pardon the sermon, but here are the top five truisms in life that I’ve come to understand in my 60 years on Planet Earth:

Number 5 -- Slow down. Speed is the antithesis of everything in life that truly matters. The need for speed is a nasty habit, jeopardizing quality, compassion, creativity, appreciation and relationships.

Number 4 -- The feeling of having enough can be quite comforting. Quality of life rarely depends on how much you’ve got. More is indeed less; less is most assuredly more. Too much of anything eventually becomes unhealthy and even toxic.

Number 3 -- Let go of certainty. The opposite is not uncertainty, but curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox. The challenge is to accept ourselves as we are, yet never stop growing and learning.

#2 -- Do the right thing. Your values and principles are the only possessions you have that no one can take away from you. When in doubt, your default position should be one of composure and kindness.

#1 -- Carpe diem. That would be Latin for "seize the day," meaning you should savor every moment. It all goes by much too quickly.

Words to live by, to be sure. And though I still struggle to measure up at times, I nonetheless continue to strive to match those standards.

In some ways, I feel like a time bandit. Never assuming I'd make it this far, it seems I’ve arrived at 60 relatively unscathed, at least physically. I continue to be optimistic about the future, and I believe you will be young at any age if you are planning for tomorrow.

After all, none are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm. We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing. So if 50 is the old age of youth, then 60 is the youth of old age. I won’t worry about the wrinkles. They’ll just cover my scars.

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