Dear readers- I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, one of those pieces that wrote in my head about 10 times before I was able to get it down. Think if it as Deep Thoughts brought on by another milestone passed, or as the piece would say, another hill summited.
The great state of Hawai’i where our president was supposed to have been born, [sic] has the tallest mountain on the planet, if measured from base to top, Mauna Kea. Measured from the ocean floor to it’s peak at over 13,000 feet, it would be 10,000 feet taller than Everest if it started on dry land. Next door the volcano Mauna Loa, which though 120 feet shorter than Mauna Kea, is the most massive shield volcano on the planet in terms of area covered. The weight of these two massive mountains is literally compressing the earths crust beneath them.
West and north of these two the Hawaiian islands get smaller and and smaller, the islands older and older, the volcanic activity further and further in the past and by the time you pass Kauai and Niihau the Hawaiian Island chain becomes isolated rocks, reefs, atolls and finally the Emperor sea mounts which stretch all the way to Russia. All of these were once mountains.
I was chatting with an old friend yesterday, a person about the same stage in life I am, same place with kids, same age, and one who knows me pretty well despite our relationship being more on the professional side than personal. But this is one of those guys who, were circumstances different I would want to spend more social time with, he’s a bucket filler as I told my son yesterday.
We were reminiscing a bit, talking about the kids, the career and about being at a stage in life where things seem a little weird.
But the more I think about it, it’s dead on. This is a weird time, 50. The proverbial halfway point.
I can go Bing and pull up a dozen different clichés about what you’re supposed to go through in each decade of your life. Inevitably they all say the same thing, at 20 be wild and find a partner, at 30 work on you career and your family, at 40 work on success, a euphemism for money in most cases, at 50 work on your legacy and 60 work on your, shit I don’t know, your legacy some more. And most of them end at 70 or 80 when you work on your memory and your sex drive, and passing gas, many of them have something about wearing purple for some reason.
Purple, like prince. Personally I want to wear blaze orange when I’m 80 so they can find me easier out in the street when snow melts in the spring.
But I digress.
50 seems to be the stage in life where the number of new opportunities and paths which manifest themselves at any given time is no longer greater than the number of those which are no longer possible.
There’s just things I won’t or can’t do anymore, paths blocked by the things I no longer have; time, willingness to take risk, and a certain clarity of vision brought on by age and experience.
And that I think, is what makes it weird.
The good news is, age and experience provide a wonderful internal compass, which really does enable me to see the best in the things available and helps me to avoid the ones that are not so great. It also means that things I find now, I’m able to take far more pleasure in and they’re far richer experiences than most of the opportunities I had even a few years ago.
Now I’ve been extremely fortunate to never have had to face any kind of great hurdles, my path has been easy, and perhaps of my own making. I recently read a sales pitch some stupid seminar “are you living life to it’s fullest or taking the path of least resistance.”
That thought makes me a little uncomfortable to be honest.
Here’s how I’m thinking about, being an analogy kind of guy-
When you’re young the world looks like a series of mountains to climb. There’s always one right in front of you and a hundreds more around you. If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s this- there is a unbreakable rule in mountain climbing, the fastest way to tops of all the peaks in a range is take them one at a time. While you can start many at once you can only arrive at the top, one peak at a time.
Along the way of course every mountain has several paths to the top, some easy and some hard. Some peaks are higher than others, some routes require pitons and equipment and help from a team, some peaks you can climb in a day in a pair of sandals. Sometimes there’s rock slides some times storms come up and hinder your progress.
What I like about this stage of life…and time, and the experience that comes with time, is the understanding of how erosion works. Like the Hawaiian islands, today massive seemingly immovable mountains, sturdy as a rock so to speak, will one day be gone. I won’t live to see it, but even the great Mauna Kea, all 13,000 feet of her, towering over the oceans around her, will one day slip back beneath the waves, replaced by the next generation of volcano’s to pass over the hole in the earths crust that gave birth to the entire chain. Assuming of course it they weren’t born in Kenya or Indonesia and have appropriate long form birth certificates and meet the criteria of the Secretary of State of the not so great State of Arizona. Just say’n.
Even the might Everest, still growing as the Indian plate slides under China, will one day begin shrinking and will become a steppe.
So here we are at 50. I get to stand on the peaks I’ve climbed, and I’ve found that they’re not nearly as high as I thought they were. I’m not completely satisfied with my progress or the accomplishment of reaching, not “the” top, but rather “A” top. I found that for the most part the path to the top was not as bad as it looked when I was at the bottom looking up. And I’ve found that the view from up here, is like the view from the top of Everest, a vast horizon of other peaks and mountains.
But at 50ish I realize I ain’t going to get them all, and the best part is, I’m totally cool with that.
Thanks for your indulgence.