Fifty Shades of Grey

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away.”Henry David Thoreau

Well, I made it. I celebrated my 50th birthday last week, singing my little heart out, surrounded by family and friends. On the day, exactly how I wanted to do it. Stepping to the music.

Many have asked if it feels different, hitting this milestone. I can report that there have been no great earth-shattering epiphanies between March 27 and March 28. But there have been many gradual realizations, especially over the past two or three years. Things slowly coming into focus.

Someone asked me recently if I thought I was an adult. I do not feel grown up, and I am not sure I know what that even means. I still find it hard to believe I have 50 years under my belt. Physically, I have to say that I am not wild about what happens to me as I age, and would happily trade myself in for a younger model at times. Benjamin Button has the right idea. Mentally, I don’t feel like I imagine a 50-year-old should feel. I still think I think young.

But spiritually and emotionally, I would not trade now for any time in the past. Up and down, good and bad, happy and sad, I have tried (and not always succeeded) to do the right thing, and treat others the way I want to be treated. There are things about my life that I wish had turned out differently, despite my efforts, but I have no regrets. Everything that has happened has made me who I am, and overall I am happy with the result. My friend Tommy reminded me of this recently, in a few more words.

I would do it all over again. It has been a good run.

Here are a few more insights, brought on by friends, family, and other great thinkers. As always, these always seem to come exactly when I am ready to receive them.

“It is a mistake to try and look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.”Winston Churchill

I used to think I had it all mapped out, and everything would happen as I planned it. Not so. There is a much bigger plan unfolding, most of which I cannot control nor understand. So I just keep moving forward, less concerned about figuring it all out, and more concerned about what I wish to create. Trying not to let my past dictate my future.

My friend Rel wrote: “maybe you can move on now and find that big THING in life that will leave you feeling content, my friend.” I have no idea what that big thing is yet, but I am open, and I am ready.

“If you continue to pursue the goal of salvation through a relationship, you will be disillusioned again and again, but if you accept that the relationship is here to make you conscious instead of happy, then the relationship will offer you salvation.”—Ekhart Tolle

Slowly learning this the hard way. Relationships exist as mirrors, reflecting who we are. I understand the concept, but it’s very tough in practice.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”—Rumi

And there are many. Trying to knock them down, one painful brick at a time. The dance of intimacy is and will continue to be my greatest life challenge.

My father wrote: “I will always support you. Even though I may have reservations about your chosen paths, you are still my son, and I will always be proud of you. I’m only sorry that I haven’t told you this before.” I can’t tell you how meaningful it is to finally hear these words. I remind myself (loosely quoted, unknown source) that I have and will incur the misunderstanding and perhaps even the wrath of those around me for having the temerity to march to my own drumbeat, which I am finally starting to hear. I will try not to take it personally. We are all on different paths and timetables, but we all seek and need unconditional love and support, especially from those closest to us. For me, that helps me feel worthy, confident, and better able to accept the good that comes my way.

And from my son Ben: “As always, the flow of life is unstoppable. But my paddle is wide, and my stroke is just. So I go where I need to.” When I asked Ben if this is an original quote, he replied “why of course…I live this shit, yo.” Wow…19 going on 50! Profound words from an old soul. You just never know where the wisdom will come from.

For me, getting older means learning to see things as they are, accepting them, and letting go. Externally, I control virtually nothing. All I can really control is what happens on the inside, and how I choose to experience life. Understanding how, why, and what I feel…a heightened awareness of everything. Learning to live with contradiction and ambiguity, and understanding that this is the way things are. Learning that fear is not something to be overcome, but rather something to face and move through.

Life is becoming much less black and white. I am learning to see the many, many shades of grey in between.

If this is what adulthood means, then I guess I am certainly well on my way.

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Learning to Let Go: My Son is Out in the World Now

Our son Ben recently graduated from high school, and is heading out into the world today. Panama then Paris for almost a month.  He is with his girlfriend Nathalie and her parents for the Panama part of it, then he will be only with her for the Paris part. He is 17 going on 30 in some ways. In other ways, my wife and I think he is going on 14. Not really, but sort of because we realize that there is so much for him to learn. The world is a wonderful, but scary place. And he’s just a kid. How will he survive out there on his own in the big bad world without us?

We have spent the past several weeks helping him prepare. Making sure he has everything he could possibly need, and that he has thought through every possible scenario. Drilling into him all the tips and life experiences we can think of. Preparing him for every possible “what if” scenario.

I won’t lie. I am anxious and worried—my default state. I know…this is wasted energy, but I can’t help it. That’s what parents do. And yet, now that he has gone this uneasiness is subsiding. Not exactly peaceful, but certainly not as intense as it was leading up to his departure. A little more settled now.

The truth is, we have been helping him prepare for this moment his whole life. We have taught him everything we know. Given him all the tools we can think of. We have guided him as best we can. And he has taken all these life experiences and evolved into a unique and interesting young man. Ready to take his show on the road. Capable of meeting the challenges that will come his way. It’s up to Ben now.

He may not approach life the way I have, but that might not be such a bad thing. Most of my life has been lived in fear of what’s out there. At 48 I’m only starting to break free of that prison.

He will surely stumble. He will surely fall. Just as we all do. But that’s what life is all about. I need to trust that he will somehow figure things out and find his way, just as we all do.

I am learning that the only way he will create his story, is for us to let him go.

And perhaps in the letting go, there will be peace.