Some people refer to themselves as the type who sees the glass half-full. They believe they’re saying something wonderful about themselves: I’m an optimist. I see the brighter side of life.
But if that glass represents reality, then I prefer someone who sees the full part and the empty. To talk about the emptiness isn’t an admission of pessimism, but shows a willingness to recognize the complexity of our lives.
This post isn’t about the lows, but I guess it is about the empty.
Like most everyone, I have my share of thoughts that come to me unbidden and without explanation. They’re just… there. Sometimes I know what they mean; other times, not so much.
Some nights I crawl into bed and can’t think where the day has gone. I felt busy and yet… what did I get done? Am I wasting my time? Or, even more disconcerting, am I wasting my life?
My best friend Jim passed away of ALS about seven years ago. When I think of him (which is often) I say, “He didn’t make it.” I say this aloud, even if I’m alone. I’m not quite sure what I mean, though.
Maybe that he didn’t progress in age? Or maybe I imagined he and I were on the same road all our lives, and he exited too soon. I’m not sure where the two of us were going, but he didn’t make it…
Most of us who have reached a certain age, look back and think of people who are no longer living. Maybe it’s a sibling, a close friend, a spouse or partner or parent or schoolmate.
As we grow older, that list gets longer.
Remembering those who died doesn’t have to be depressing.
When I think of Jim I often remember something funny. His love of chocolate cake was astonishing. He would close his eyes as he was transported by each bite. I baked him a chocolate cake nearly every time he visited us. Jim was very slender all his life and yet he could eat three large pieces in a single sitting.
He also had a slew of personal tics: his wagging foot and the way he jiggled his knee. His ever-present handkerchief… (I’ve heard him blow his nose 40 billion jillion times.) His devotion to movies was only exceeded by his love of going out for coffee afterward and talking. (I miss those conversations.)
I thought this post would be about turning 61 years old. But I don’t have anything profound to offer. When I was in Texas visiting my mom back in March, she looked at me and said, “I never thought you would get to 60.” Her comment surprised me more than I can say. I’m sure she meant my years of smoking cigarettes, or perhaps that I survived the AIDS crisis, or maybe my mental health struggles when I was in my 20s and 30s. Her observation didn’t require a response and I didn’t give her one. Maybe an adult child never imagines their parent wondering about a premature death.
I had a lung CT scan to check for cancer last year — it came back clear. My doctor thinks I’ll be fine because it’s been years since I smoked cigarettes. Even so, I will continue these annual scans, just to make sure.
I remember seeing an interview with an old woman who had turned 100. The interviewer asked her, “To what do you attribute your long life?” She looked at him as if he was a nincompoop and replied, “Because I haven’t died yet.”
That’s the ideal response to an impossible question.
I think about concepts I associate with being old — retirement, and Medicare. I wear jeans less often and prefer slacks because they’re less binding. I need new glasses. I had another molar pulled recently.
But the reasons to feel glad about life continue to grow. Bill and I just celebrated our 23rd anniversary. We love our new home that faces west with stunning sunsets. We take lots of pictures. This one shows the city lights of Santa Rosa.
We have friends who have shared many decades of their lives with us and live close by. I have a new fancy-ass kitchen where I can cook anything I choose. I have much to be thankful for.
I’ve noticed my definition for old keeps changing. My friend Marty turned 80 last month. I used to think that was old. Maybe old has become a placeholder for when we’re infirm or just worn out. Marty is hardly worn out, nor is my pal Roberto who recently turned 82. They are changing my view of what aging means.
All of us like to imagine we’re responsible, somehow, for our lives — and we are, of course — but who doesn’t know people who should have died years ago because of their choices yet are still alive and kicking? Who doesn’t know someone who lived a “clean” life and died early?
And so I’m making it. Dark thoughts and all.
I started writing about emptiness and ended by writing about fullness. Maybe the metaphor of that silly glass represents more to me than I imagined, after all.
9 thoughts on “That Silly Glass: Thoughts on Turning 61 Years Old”
Oh, so lovely, Bart! Thank you. I so enjoyed the path or the meander of this piece, the flow of it if you will, and the way I was so alert and with you through every transition. And all the wonderful details and just getting to hear your voice again. What a pleasure!
Enjoyed reading your thoughtful piece especially because you have included so much about your friends…the treasures of life.
Happiest of Birthdays Bart!
Thanks for the reminder that ‘half full’ and ‘half empty’ viewpoints keep us from seeing the truth—that fullness and emptiness are always at hand, waiting to be explored. This post was a wonderful exploration!
I really enjoyed reading that Bart. I love it ALL but the best part of it is reading that you gave up smoking! I am SO happy about that. I am not sure which was scarier. the actual smoking or the constant stopping at convenience stores to purchase the one pack. Love you friend!
I loved this piece so much, Bart. Thank you too for reminding me of Jim. When he was my housemate in Rohnert Park, we watched many a movie together –that jiggling foot! Thank you for posting as often as you can. As you know I am a fan of your writing and your being.
This is just as delicious as that chocolate cake you describe Jim eating.
So honest. So… well… you!
Love this! And you!
Hi Bart, I love reconnecting through your writing. Glad to hear you are well, thriving, and still reflecting through your writing. I’ll resist sharing Buddhist treatises on emptiness. – Terri Nicholson
How nice to hear from you. I hope life is treating you well and that you’re continuing to write. Here’s wishing you a wonderful holiday season.