I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the best way to talk about my 60th birthday. Should I remark on long life lived well or on the futures yet to come? Are the things that matter most found among people and things that endure, or where there has been change and learning? Do feelings about advancing age matter more than thoughts about it; should I reflect on my achievements or my regrets?
Because turning 60 touches on all of these things. Yet, it seems trite to just ruminate or anticipate.
This is not an event that I have been looking forward to. I burdened it with unrealistic benchmarks for how to celebrate; a gathering organized for Taormina had to be postponed as work/life commitments intervened. A rolling door-to-door celebration seemed the practical alternative, but felt a bit like I was forcing it onto others.
Still a tumbleweed, as folk singer Christene LeDoux once characterized me. I look to myself, I confided in a letter to a friend. I chose to move overseas, to immerse in business and personal opportunities, to allow ties to ‘home’ and ‘commitment’ to weaken. If I don’t keep connection, then I can’t expect engagement in return.
Still, the 8th itself dawned a beautiful sunny day in Seattle after quiz night with friends (and an epic last-place finish against the Microsoft teams). My daughter arranged dinner at a local brewpub with spicy pulled pork bar-b-q and strong dark craft ales, a good low-key affair, warm and fun together.
Wednesday, I rejoined half of my old Research team for lunch. Ten years ago, I applied for my sabbatical year at Cambridge, diverging from the corporate ladder onto todays expat-entrepreneurial path. It was wonderful to catch up with everyone’s accomplishments and plans since then, and it also gave a glimpse of how an alternative life, the one I’d given up, might have progressed.
In some ways, it reminded me of sailboat racing. My past few years have seen a lot of strategy and labor, tacking against winds of circumstance without knowing if I was gaining any progress towards my work and life ambitions. But now, when the tracks cross again, I can see the differences clearly.
And, gratifyingly, I know that I made the right choices for myself.
My family gathered for a celebration in Boulder later in the week, three generations with my parents, my brother, and my son. It was a very special occasion: we shared dinners and conversations, told hairy stories about trips and friends, laughed about many adventures together. The gifts moved me most, though. Everyone had thought hard about what my life had become and where it was headed. Whether from our conversations, contacting my friends, or reading my blog, each gave me something thoughtful and personal that fit in. It wasn’t at all what I expected; it touched me more than I imagined it could.
And, really, that was the answer to the meaning of my milestone: my enduring connections to all the people, family friends / w.wezen and colleagues, who still remain part of my life and who matter the most.
I couldn’t have asked for a better way to mark my 60th birthday.