Today I turned 55. As in years old.
55, interesting number, right? Sounds fairly harmless. Say it with me -- 55, 55, 55.
55, that speed limit that singer Sammy Hagar just couldn't drive. Of course, he's still a force of nature on stage as a rocker at age 68.
55, the number of points Michael Jordan scored in his second game coming out of his ill-fated retirement from basketball to pursue, um, baseball. Of Michael's encore, Spike Lee said it best, "Mike dropped a double nickel on my beloved Knicks."
And 55... the age I turn today.
What's the big deal? 55, so what. Just another number, right?
Well, see, I work in senior housing. So today I am eligible to move into many of my own buildings, should I so choose. I started doing "this" in my 30's, now I AM this. 55, baby, come on in, Tim's a SENIOR.
People often ask me how I got into this, working with seniors and all. I grew up in an (at least partly) Irish, Catholic family where storytelling was like a competitive sport and older people simply told better stories than younger ones, so I ended up spending more time at that end of the dinner table. I have also spent most of my life seeking and finding mentors who have known more, have been around the block a few more times, and could teach me out of their experience.
I had this cool letter-writing relationship with my grandmother, my Dad's Mom, a simple farm woman from Iowa who spun a great story about her daily life. I would read her letters to my friends on my college dorm floor at UCSB, regaling her epics about hedge hogs that crossed her garden and suffered her wrath, and other Odyssey-of-the-Midwest yarns. People loved her funny, exciting tales and I told her that, which made her feel valued and feel that she had a voice -- college kids liked her letters! Little did I know that this simple act -- holding a mirror up to my grandmother to make her realize how great she was -- would be the basis for my career later in my own life.
So what do I know, now that I'm a "senior" much like the many sage ones I've served through EngAGE for 17 years now and the dozens of interviews I've done on EXPERIENCE TALKS, our radio show -- what have I learned?
First, loss shapes us. My life has been peppered by loss like many of the folks in our communities. I lost my younger brother Scott (when he was 32), both my parents, and my wife Nancy (when she was 48), mother of my teenage daughter, Zoe (when she was 8). Three of them died in my arms. This was all hard, sure, but it also made me who I am -- made me better at my job, created a greater need to build resilience, made me strive for empathy. And, as an extra added bonus, I have had to learn to cook, to be both a Dad and as much of a Mom as I could be, and to do laundry and operate the Swiffer while on a conference call.
Second, life also shapes us. My life has been peppered with life too. I will never forget the day Zoe was born and handed to me in the hospital, my heart grew 10 sizes. I sang Zeppelin to her in her bassinet and knew that my life had changed forever. Her life and my life, woven together like a continually surprising beautiful tapestry.
Third, stop playing competitive basketball BEFORE the catastrophic third knee injury in your 50's.
So, I turn 55, no big deal. My mantra for today, it's just a number.
A hero of mine, Carl Jung, co-wrote his last book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, while he was dying in 1962, the year after I was born. The book delves very deeply and personally into the details of his childhood, his personal life and his exploration of the psyche, finally turning his gift for understanding and human exploration on himself. A favorite quote of his from that book: "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being."
So here I am, here I go, kindling a light, cobbling away at a life, living, being -- 55 and up -- bring it on.
A favorite film of mine about male friendship, and life in general, is Tombstone. I'm not kidding, watch it again, it's brilliant, and a favorite I share with my best buddy Dr. Greg Berkoff, the smartest guy I know. Doc Holliday, played by Val Kilmer, quips nicely about getting older, hopefully, and living life as it comes (Holliday is dying of Tuberculosis.
Ike Clanton: Listen, Mr. Kansas Law Dog. Law don't go around here. Savvy?
Wyatt Earp: I'm retired.
Johnny Ringo: [Ringo steps up to Doc] And you must be Doc Holliday.
Doc Holliday: That's the rumor.
Johnny Ringo: You retired too?
Doc Holliday: Not me. I'm in my prime.