I dreaded turning sixty, and when that birthday was looming a year ago I got even more melancholic than usual.
Understand that when I was a boy sixty was old.
And not just because I was young: people died younger. My paternal grandfather died in his early fifties. My mom’s mom died in her early 60s. Her dad around 70. My eldest grandparent was my father’s mother, who was in her mid 70s.
But I am aware that before that generation my ancestors, at least those who survived childhood, lived for the most part long lives, into their 80s and 90s.
I cannot help but speculate that moving from farm to city, as my grandparents and parents did, and beginning to eat store bought, processed food and drink homogenized milk and work in more stressful and unnatural environments – I have worked in factories- shortened their lives.
And I was feeling old last winter, worn down by the biting cold and with constant pain in my neck, shoulders and back, to which I was resigned.
And I have written here about realizing that I had spun a very narrow narrative, that I assumed, after my Bad Year of health crises and subsequent ills, that I was soon to be gone from this world. I did not make long term plans. I was resigned to living in pain the rest of my short life, and about the only optimistic part was that my life insurance would help my bride and the kids climb out of debt.
It is not like I did not experience joy, or find pleasure in my family or in beauty. If you read what I write you know that. But the underlying reality was doom.
I wrote on Facebook that when I turned sixty that I would wear black clothes and dark John Lennon glasses. It wasn’t a joke. I bought black t shirts and shades. But black is too hot for a fiery man like me, even in winter months, and I found I do not like looking at a dark world.
But that was my mood.
Meanwhile, everything was falling apart, or so it felt. I began a long deconstruction, a stripping down, accompanied by an epic winter. I became disillusioned with a lot of what I had thought was religion, and critical of the subculture of a certain type of American ‘orthodox Catholicism’, even though I had never been anywhere but on the margins of the Real Catholic Club, a sort of pet Catholic bohemian radical.
But it fell apart.
Human construct after human construct crumbled, until I was just being beholding Being.
And I awoke.
Some friends may think I have lost my faith, but in fact I lost everything but my faith.
And I felt a surge of creativity, both artistically and intellectually. Everything seemed to come together, even the parts that were falling apart.
I realized that the source of much of my back and neck pain was anxiety, added to by the constant clenching that extreme cold inspires as a natural reaction, and I realized that there are exercises I can do to help strengthen my muscles.
Concurrent with this came clarity about a lot of personal things. I realized that I have books brewing in me: memoirs, things theological, erotic, philosophical, poetic.
But I do not have time for major projects. I came to understand that for all sorts of practical reasons it makes sense for me to retire later rather than sooner. Put these two realizations together and it is clear that while I do not have time to write a book or paint large paintings I can write sketches and chapters and jot down ideas, and I can do small paintings and drawings.
I do not know where this will go. It may all be worked into a novel, or there may be several books brewing.
Or maybe I will sum it all up in a poem.
But to that end I have begun writing elsewhere, anonymously. I will still write here, the sort of ‘Catholic stuff” that has appeared here since 2005. And I will continue writing here on social and political issues. Another presidential race is brewing and it will be hard not to offer my satirical take on it. Heck, the Republicans oddly chose Cleveland, one of the blackest and poorest cities in the US, for their convention. It’s just an hour away and I may pay a visit.
Though it doesn’t take a prophet to predict that this round of Americana is going to be uglier and dumber than ever.
So Caelum et Terra, which has been losing readers since I veered from the Real Catholic Club’s weird religion, will continue.
For the more personal and speculative, though, I have another venue.
And a plan.
Sixty, which I had dreaded, turned out to be a watershed, a hill from which there is a broad and hopeful view.
And tomorrow I turn 61.