Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.
- Bob Dylan, My Back Pages
I turned 50 today.
When I was 10, 20, 30 and even 40, it never really occurred to me that this was going to happen. Fifty has always been something impossibly remote, something that happened to other people.
Not that I mind, really, waking up and understanding that it has, in fact, happened to me. Turning 50 isn't like what I thought it would be.
For one thing, once you're here, it doesn't really seem old anymore. Not even as old as I felt at 44, when it first seriously entered my mind that I wasn't going to live forever. At 44 I found that my life was more than half over, and what had I accomplished? What had happened to all the idealized hopes and dreams of 18? Of 25? Was this all I could expect out of life-- to finish my years in middle-class ordinariness and obscurity? And then, to actually, really die?
It seemed kind of tragic at 44.
Now it seems almost comforting.
I think the main thing about turning 50 is that sometime during the last five or six years, it stopped being about me. What I accomplish as an individual just isn't what life is all about. I feel now that I'm part of this whole thing that is God's world, still learning to seek first God's new-creation kingdom, but knowing that the bits that I contribute are just threads in a vast tapestry. And the weaver is Christ, not me.
I still probably have quite a bit of time left, after all. I'll finish raising my kids, and maybe someday (I hope!) I'll get some grandchildren to spoil. I'll keep helping people with the paperwork to fix their legal problems. I'll keep reading and blogging and learning and going to church, and watching the babies in the church nursery, and I'll keep going for walks in the woods and holding hands with my husband. And I'll realize more and more as I travel from here how impermanent it all is. And that will be ok.
I don't have to have all the answers anymore. I don't even have to understand all the questions.
The book of Ecclesiastes makes more sense to me now than it used to. For one thing, Gregory Mobley's book The Return of the Chaos Monsters: and Other Backstories of the Bible helped me understand that the word translated "vanity" in that text does not actually mean "meaningless":
[Ecclesiastes] is not saying that everything is without form and void of meaning. Rather, there is meaning and substance, to everything there is a season and a time, but we see through a glass darkly. . . Our apprehension of . . . the Great Plan is ephemeral and elusive. . . We can experience these exuberances, fleeting puffs of insight about, and engagement with, the Real, but we can neither possess nor control them. . . . [Chapter 6]
Mobley translates Ecc. 3:11 like this:
The entire thing [God] has made beautiful according to its time. Furthermore, [God] has given the [ability to comprehend] chronology in their hearts. Yet humans cannot discover what God is enacting from beginning to end. [Ibid]
Turning 50, I have gained enough perspective to know that I lack perspective. I have felt, and firmly believe, that there is a pattern to it all, but it's enough to know this. I don't need to see the whole pattern or how my threads fit into it. I only know that they do.
And because of this, nothing I do is actually in vain. We are put on this earth to help one another, to live interlocking lives within the pattern, and whether the help I give is visible is not important. What is important is that there's no such thing as an insignificant life. There's no person, whether they live for an hour or a hundred years, whose thread God doesn't see as part of an entire, beautiful weaving.
This isn't to discount the ugliness of ugliness. This isn't about pretending that people don't do horrible things to one another, and it isn't saying that God wants these things or that they have anything to do with God's plan (see for instance Jeremiah 19:5). But in spite of these things, God's plan endures. In spite of these things, the tapestry-weaving continues until the whole thing is complete.
I used to feel I had to "do great things for God." Now I understand that doing small things for God can also be great. I used to think I had to "get a mighty vision." Now it's enough to "see in a mirror, dimly" and to know only in part (1 Cor. 13:12).
But I'm also glad that people who are 10, or 20, or 30, don't feel this way. I'm glad they want to have big visions and high goals and grand adventures. Because God does call some of us to stand out, to be instigators of whole new sections of the pattern, and if no one would step into those plans, where would the pattern be?
What it comes down to is that we all need each other. We need one-year-olds and 10-year-olds and 30-year-olds and 80-year-olds. We need big movers and little shakers. We need all the perspectives from all the places, in all colors, in all different types of thread.
Because it's not about any one of us. It's about all of us.
And that's what I see at age 50. I wonder what I'll see when I'm 70. . . .