PUMPING IRONY: A Birthday Lesson

Most of my birthday plans went awry, but I let them go and stumbled upon something greater than expected.

I got a nice note via Facebook on Saturday from a fellow traveler in Geezerville. She wished me a happy 63rd birthday and noted, quite logically, that “Birthdays are good for you. People who have the most live the longest.”

That’s mathematically indisputable, of course, but it also somehow misses the point. It’s not how long you live that counts. It’s how you live. The years do pile up as we age, and there’s no reason not to celebrate each annual milestone, but if you’re really paying attention, each moment is where real living happens.

I know it sounds dorky, even a bit cliched, but as I get older, I’ve really grown to appreciate those occasions when I’ve been able to be completely present — neither worrying about what I’m supposed to be doing or regretting what I’ve been unable to do. Just being fully in the now.

On Saturday, my plan was for MLW and  me to get out on our bicycles after breakfast, hit Peace Coffee for a mid-morning espresso, then pedal across the freeway to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to wander among an exhibition of drawings by Matisse and other masters, but we didn’t get out the door until noon, which made coffee a bit irrelevant, and by the time we made it into the vicinity of the MIA, it was really time for lunch, after which it seemed more appropriate to launch ourselves further uptown to the Walker Art Center, where an artist-designed mini-golf course beckoned. Unfortunately, lots of other mini-golfers had arrived by the time we did, and we were informed that if we wanted to play, we’d have to cool our jets for the next 2½ hours.

So, off we went to a coffee shop up the street and were rewarded by an out-of-the-blue encounter with a couple from our distant past, now settled in Austin, Texas, who happened to be in town for a wedding. We had a delightful, completely unexpected reunion. Funny how things turn out.

Through all the shifted priorities and serendipities, the idea is to just smile and move on. No expectations. Just let the day unfold. Just let life present you with what it will.

I’ve been reading the late Peter Matthiessen’s masterpiece, The Snow Leopard, which has reminded me of how challenging this all can be. Matthiessen’s book chronicles a three-month journey through the mountains of Nepal, in which the author, a devoted Buddhist practitioner, finds himself mostly unable to rise above the misery and pain he encounters. Hoping to find a lesson from the lama at a remote monastery, Matthiessen instead learns by journey’s end that it was not the holy man, but Tukten, one of his ragged porters, who carried the wisdom he sought.

Quote From the Snow Leopard

 “In his life in the moment, in his freedom from attachments, in the simplicity of his everyday example, Tukten has taught me over and over, he is the teacher that I hoped to find.”

I’m not a seeker in the way folks like Matthiessen are, but I do understand the value of simply being as I enter my 64th year. Every moment is as precious as it is ordinary. And to live it completely is to grow old with no regrets — no matter how many years you may have left.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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