I am quite enjoying being in my fifties. The stage of your life when all of the elements, if not quite come together, get as close are they are probably going to. It is the brow of the hill of life. You are old enough to look back and be reflective and wise, but still young enough to be adventurous and target setting as you view the remaining stretch. At 54 I appear to have a better grasp of my life than I ever did previously.
I seem to have an overriding sense of calm and appreciation that underpins each day, no matter what individual trials and challenges each of those days will bring. But at 54 I am also still running about 25 miles a week, going to rock concerts and able to hold my end up at the bar on the rare occasions when I need to. In a nice contrast I also go to Mass every day. I make sure I make a daily space to reflect and appreciate and to plan. So I still seem to be doing, in my 50’s, most of the things I was doing in my 20’s and 30’s. Perhaps, if I get there, the 60’s will be just the same. I hope so. I hope I won’t be trading in my running for stamp collecting. Or the Smashing Pumpkins for Barry Manilow.
But the big difference in my 50’s is that coupled with an appreciation of life I seem to be looking more towards the remainder of my life and whatever may be beyond that, than I ever did before. That’s the “brow of the hill” bit. 14 years ago I got ready to die. It was the elephant in the room. I managed, eventually, to escape from the room but I will never let myself lose the extra dimension my mindset gained from the encounter. I spoke to the elephant and we got on better than I imagined we would. I told him I wasn’t afraid.
My 50’s seem to be reminding me that if I did escape from the room it was only out to a small jungle. I can’t see the elephant now but I know that one day I will push away a few large Monstera Deliciosa leaves and there he will be. There may still be a few optional routes around him for a while but I have reached the stage of life where I know you can’t hide from the biggest animal in a small jungle, forever. We will talk again.
But the great gift the 50’s has brought me is complete ease with all of this thinking. If I wasn’t afraid of the elephant 14 years ago, I’m certainly not going to be afraid of him now. And now that I am at ease the extra dimension I have is that I am starting to think more and more about what happens after I die.
I have written previously that I am a big believer in heaven. It is the perfect answer to all of the problems I see no solution for. And we have many problems in this world that won’t or can’t be solved by this world. Apart from any religious beliefs I have, the planet earth I see in my 50’s seems to give almost practical credence to the existence of heaven. Something perfect, something right, something beyond the struggle that most of our lives seem to have transpired to be. The earth is a wonderful creation that is way beyond us and almost all of us have a common aspiration for goodness and love and happiness in our hearts. Good people, trying every day to do their best. For me, all of that has to come together one day. For me, that will be heaven.
So heaven fascinates me these days. I am only equipped to think of it in earthly terms because they are the only pieces of lego I have. One of my favorite impressions is that heaven will be the earth perfect. This world, exactly as we know it, but without all the bad things. There will be no injustice or wars or hate or poverty or earthquakes. There will be no need for police or prisons or guns or locks on doors or lawyers. I will be able to go and visit all the wonderful places that I won’t get to see this time around. The Cleveland Browns will win the Superbowl. In fact, if I want them to, they will win it every day.
But more than anything else heaven will be a people place. A wonderful people place. So I don’t just pray for myself. I pray we will all go. I am looking forward to sitting down with good people currently in distress, in a little bar, in a little village, in Peru or Zambia or Nepal, with everybody smiling. Heaven will be all of those things and way more that we could ever hope to understand.
So not only am I not afraid to die, but a little part of me is actually looking forward to dying. I pray to God that it will be the start of the greatest adventure of all. The Cleveland Browns and the Smashing Pumpkins will keep me going until then, but I long for the day when all of the unexplained things I now see in our world in my 50’s, will make perfect, wonderful sense.