Greg turned forty yesterday, forty days after I did. As someone recently reminded us, forty is the new twenty. Does that make twenty the new ten? It would explain a lot.
Neither of us is particularly worked up about reaching this august age. Besides being so wise and capable, we are both in better physical shape now than at twenty. Greg has a thirty-inch waist, like our seventeen-year-old son. And I celebrated my birthday by increasing my push-ups from thirty-nine (thirteen per set) to forty-two (fourteen per set). Coincidentally, this is how Shihan Kristensen calculates birthday push-ups for karate-ka, adding one for good luck and one for good measure. These are real full-body push-ups, on my knuckles. At twenty I doubt I could have managed one such.
But growing older is not without its melancholy, no matter how many push-ups you can do. When you are young, possibilities for your future life lie before you like the sands of the sea. As you age, they necessarily decrease, limited by whatever choices you’ve made in the past. This narrowing of capacity continues for the remainder of your life.
Do I sound defeatist? I don’t mean that people past a certain age can’t make meaningful changes. Indeed, most people of all ages have far more power to change than they acknowledge. But to choose one path is to necessarily reject others, cutting ourselves off from other future choices that might otherwise have presented themselves. Also, advancing age decreases the possible effects of any choice we do make. One simply runs out of time. I will never be an Olympic athlete, or write a novel that will make me a famous child prodigy. More and more, I see the truth of the words, You make your choices, and then your choices make you.
C.S. Lewis once remarked to a group of college students,
If I say to you that no one has time to finish, that the longest human life leaves a man, in any branch of learning, a beginner, I shall seem to you to be saying something quite academic and theoretical. You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether, of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say “No time for that,” “Too late now,” and “Not for me.”
Sad as this may seem, it would be sadder still to remain forever in a state of virgin potentiality, an unwrit book, fresh and appealing, but never developed or fulfilled; unspoiled, but without character.
A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.
Even the most legitimate regret ought not to be given undue attention—not because regret itself is foolish or ineffectual, as our permissive society claims, but because, wrongly dwelt on, it poisons the present, causing occasion for future regret. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
I am grateful for the time I have, for the excellent health my family and I enjoy, for the many spiritual and material blessings God has bestowed on us, and for the preceding forty years, which, for better or worse, have given me a character and a history.