On Becoming Neodymium

“Neodymium is a chemical element with the symbol Nd and atomic number 60. It is a soft silvery metal that tarnishes in air. Neodymium was discovered in 1885 by the Austrian chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach.” Wikipedia

Okay, I’m not actually turning into Carl’s silvery metal discovery, but my new life number is “60” – years old that is; and that was the geekiest way I could think of to label this article. No apologies.

The depth of my geekiness is not the only observation I find myself making at the close of my sixth decade. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately (surprise, surprise) and have come to the conclusion that the best way for me to experience this latest milestone (millstone?) in my life is to work it out here in my blog. It’s been some time since I wrote anything here and now seems as good a time as any to resume.

And so I present for your consideration, in no particular order, 60 thoughts, observations, reflections, recollections; well, 60 something-or-others on the what, when, who, where, why and how of my becoming a sexagenarian. Read or don’t, enjoy or don’t, it’s up to you. Quite frankly I’m doing this for me and no one else; but you, dear reader, are invited to eavesdrop. If you find some nugget of value, you’re welcome. If not, sorry to have wasted your time.

Let’s get started shall we. Like I said, there’s no particular order, just writing ‘em as I think of ‘em.

  1. I really hate the fact I’m 60 years old. No, seriously, I hate it; for a couple of reasons. The first of which was driven home in the last two months. I broke my collar bone when I was thrown from my bicycle. If I had been ten years younger the surgeon told me they would have pinned it for six weeks and then taken all the metal out and things would have been all but good as new. But now that I’m sixty my bone density will start to decline and so the metal stays in – for good. Hate it. Which brings me to the second reason: statistically, my life is between two-thirds and three-quarters done. Health-wise, no matter how hard I work at it, the downward slope has started. I’m not saying the climax is past and I’ve entered the epilog of my life’s story, but the fact is there are more years behind me then there are in front of me. I hate it.
  2. I really like the fact I’m 60 years old. No Seriously! Despite item #1 I really am psyched to be this old. (It’s very much a love/hate thing.) Living this long is cool, especially since so few guys in my family line have made it this far. My family is notoriously short-lived; according to my Father at 60 I’m older than all but two out of the last 10 generations. If I make it to 61 I’ll be the oldest Gray male in about 300 years. (Yeah we go back a ways.) That is cool. Other reasons will be found scattered through the next 58 items I’m sure.
  3. I’ve been a geek my whole life, since long before it was cool. Being one caused my parents to parade my talents before their friends as a child, got me beat up all through high school, and severely inhibited my dating prospects throughout my 20s. Over the years I hated it, denied it, redefined it, and eventually embraced it. Now as I turn 60 I find the correlation between myself and Neodymium somewhat appropriate and amusing, but more on that later.
  4. I’m not the best geek there is actually. There are far better and more impressive geeks than I am, and that’s okay. I’m good at what I do in the context I do it in. It’s taken 60 years but I’ve learned to be content with that.
  5. Encouraging chipmunks to aspire to be eagles will likely result in severely disappointed chipmunks. But we can encourage them to be truly spectacular chipmunks! This isn’t about settling for less, it’s about finding your true calling. Far too many people who would be deliriously happy being a really great chipmunk are desperately unhappy because they think they are supposed to be eagles. The eagle is not the pinnacle of anything other than being an eagle. It’s really no better than a chipmunk, just different. Truth is, an eagle would make a really lousy chipmunk. I spent about 30 minutes on my back patio on Sunday watching a chipmunk dig a new burrow and start the process of filling it with nuts etc. It was a wonderful thing to watch this little creature do what it was designed to do and do it so effortlessly. And since it wasn’t designed to fly it didn’t even try, not even once, and seemed no less content for it. Find out who you were meant to be and strive for greatness as that person; there are as many different definitions of success as there are creatures in the forest.
  6. Being 60 means I got to see the cool bands. And I got to see them before they were so big I couldn’t afford to see them. Rush, Max Webster, Grateful Dead, Ramones, bunch of others; saw them all before they grew too big to play smaller local venues. (Yes, I have the t-shirt)
  7. Outliving your friends really sucks. It’s happened too often. Lately it’s been happening more and more. The longer I live the worse it’s going to get. Like I said, it sucks!
  8. I believe in God more than I ever have. This is a big one. And it stands on its own. Aside from the Bible, apart from Christianity, if all religions in the world were proven to be the constructs of desperate or deranged minds, I would still be of the opinion that there must be a God; of some kind, somewhere. I’ve pondered this question most of my life and even after 6o years when I look at the world around me I see design. And where there is design there must be a designer. I have a very hard time believing it’s totally random.
  9. I also believe that Jesus was/is the Son of God. God in the flesh come to Earth to take faith to a whole new level. When it comes to Jesus there are only three options (as I see it): a) He was and is who the Bible claims he is, b) he was a wise teacher but the Bible and the whole God thing was made up by early church leaders, or c) He was a crazy religious nut and so were all the people that followed him. I believe in option “a” because neither “b” nor “c” would be capable of generating the number of martyrs history bears witness to. At some point somebody among the original followers would have spilled the beans. No one ever did.
  10. Believing in God doesn’t mean I reject evolution. God and science are not incompatible or mutually exclusive. Read the journals of the greatest men and women of science and you will see that many of them were also people of faith. They viewed science as the key to understanding how God created the universe. Accepting the evidence for evolution does not eliminate God as creator any more than accepting the evidence for paintbrushes eliminates Caravaggio or Monet.
  11. Anyone who says they have no regrets is lying. To you and/or to themselves. Or, and this is more likely, what they really mean to say is they’ve made peace with the fact there’s nothing they can do now to change the stuff they got wrong and life isn’t really all that bad so let’s just move on shall we?
  12. My mistakes have contributed to making me who I am. And if I’m happy with who I am and the life I’m living then were they really mistakes? Discuss amongst yourselves.
  13. I have one, big regret in my life: I’ve caused people pain. Yeah, there are a few other things I wish I had done differently, but there is nothing I regret more than the fact that far too many times in my life I have caused other people pain. Not physically, though I’ve done that too, but emotionally. I’ve said and not said and done and not done things that caused so much pain that it made being friends with people hard; for them and for me. And that I regret more than anything else. And it’s the only regret that matters because, for me, this is the definition of sin; anything that I have done or not done that causes other people (or God) pain and messes up the relationships in my life. So yeah, for me sin is real, and I regret it more the older I get.
  14. And that’s why I still go to church. I’ve come to believe the world needs churches, and synagogues, and temples, and whatever else it is you call your spiritual community. Because it is in a spiritual community that we stand the best chance to learn how to deal with sin; or rather, we learn how to heal the pain we cause. Can we learn it elsewhere, like from our parents for instance? Sure, but I think you’ll find most of us don’t. What if your parents aren’t the nicest of people? Where do you learn it then? Being part of a spiritual community puts us in a place where we learn things that can only come from outside ourselves. It gives us the opportunity to purge the sin from our lives and start the healing process. And from the Christian perspective (the only one I can speak from with any authority) that is the heart of the gospel. Jesus was all about healing pain and purging our sin (our tendency to cause pain – see #13). Some of you will say that healing pain was not a part of your church experience. Well it should be. If the church you attend isn’t teaching how to heal relationships, find a new one.
  15. Most intense right-wing evangelicals I know are not motivated by hate but rather by genuine concern for the well being of people and nations. Really! They are! I know it’s hard for non-evangelicals to grasp but if you truly believe that God will only bless a person, a family, or even a nation if there is no sin in your life, then how can you NOT speak out! If you truly believe that America (and the world for that matter) is in the mess it’s in because of all the sinful aspects there are to our society these days then of course you are going to speak up— loudly! How could you call yourself a patriot and keep silent?
  16. That said: Sometimes God’s Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard! Like every other social/political/religious group in the world Christianity has more than its fair share of idiots (more on this later). There are days I’m reluctant to admit I serve the same God that they do. But trying to deny it’s the same God is not the answer because it is; it’s just that from my perspective their understanding of Him is somewhat flawed.
  17. Trouble is my understanding of God is flawed too! I’m realizing as I read this that for many I will sound quite arrogant and self congratulatory as well; as if I have a lock on true theology. Make no mistake—I don’t! But a guy can only honestly share what he honestly believes; and while my personal theology has evolved somewhat what you read here is where it is at right now. So at this moment, it’s the best I can do.
  18. And the best we can do is love. That’s the key to the gospel people. Is what you are doing right now loving? Good, keep doing it. If not, see if you can find something else to do and still get the job done.
  19. That said: Love is NOT all you need. Sorry John, it isn’t. We need a ton of stuff besides love for life to be worthwhile. But I’ll give you this; without love, most of the other stuff you need either isn’t likely to happen, or won’t matter a damn.
  20. Compatibility is hugely overrated. I have little in common with most of my friends and with just about every aspect and personality quirk of my wife Roberta. But I love her more than I have the words to say and would feel completely incomplete without her.
  21. Doing what you love for money can suck you dry. You’ve heard it said, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” (link) I’ve tried this, a few times; and for me doing it for money took all the love out of it. Photography was the worse example of this. I loved it. I even made my own prints in my own darkroom. Doing it for a living seemed a natural fit. But working for other people, meeting their agendas instead of my own sucked the fun out of it for me. Try to avoid that.
  22. Some of us need to keep our vocation and our occupation separate. This is why I’m glad I’ve kept sound and recording as a hobby. I’ve been playing with sound since I was a kid. My parents bought me my first tape recorder (this one) when I was 11. I did sound for plays in high school, did it for my friends with garage bands, and ran sound at almost every church I’ve attended. No matter how many other things I’ve tried, and there’s been many, I keep coming back to this.
  23. This brings me back to the Neodymium thing. Back to Wikipedia for a moment… “Another chief use of neodymium is as the free pure element. It is used as a component in the alloys used to make high-strength neodymium magnets—powerful permanent magnets. These magnets are widely used in such products as microphones, professional loudspeakers, in-ear headphones, and computer hard disks, where low magnet mass or volume, or strong magnetic fields are required. ” Neodymium, like all rare earths, is simply cool stuff and most modern audio equipment relies on it pretty heavily. And there is a ton of stuff we’re still learning about it (Did you know Neodymium magnets repel sharks? link) So the idea of a silly, tenuous, geeky link between my turning 60 and Neodymium makes me smile a little.
  24. Few things are as relaxing as smooth bourbon, smooth jazz, and a smooth cigar. And it is getting harder and harder to find a place where you can enjoy all three at the same time. Even though I quit smoking 30 years ago, I still miss a good cigar. Thank God for jazz and bourbon.
  25. Anyone who starts a conversation with, “Look, I’m not trying to be a [fill in blank], but…” usually is.
  26. I’m really nothing like my parents, but I value the influence they had on who I am. My folks and I saw eye-to-eye on nothing. Well, almost nothing. And yet, I can see where I value what they valued; I just don’t value it for the same reasons or in the same way that they did.
  27. In a world where taking offence is almost an Olympic sport grammar matters. Or at least most of it does. Frankly, I don’t care if you split an infinitive, or dangle your participles; it rarely affects the meaning of a sentence for most of us. But when the structure of your sentence and the choice of vocabulary affect your being accurately understood—grammar counts! Go here!
  28. I fully recognize that 30 years from now I will look back at this list and consider 80% of it pure crap. It’s inevitable.
  29. That said, 30 years from now these will be “the good old days.” Especially if you are currently under 40.
  30. Prayer changes things. Even if the only thing it changes is me. You can’t enter into prayer lightly; at least not for long. No matter how cynical you may be, entering into prayer will draw you to a deeper place. A place where the world changes. It may well be simply because going there forces you to think about your life and the world around you in a different way; and atheist or not, we all need to do that once in a while.
  31. Sharing your life with an animal will make you more human. Or at least it should. Doesn’t matter if you’re a cat person, a dog person, or even a bird/fish/lizard/whatever person, caring for an animal will bring you to a place where all living things have value and that will make you more human. If this doesn’t happen, I suggest you give up on animals and get a pet rock. (Yes folks, they’re still around.)
  32. Everyone will eventually get into jazz music. That’s because no matter what you like now, there is a flavour of jazz that has its roots in your kind of music. There just is.
  33. There are no more idiots using guns/ bicycles/ computers/ cell-phones/ knives/ accordions/ whatever in government/ business/ education/ entertainment/ wherever then there are using/doing anything else. There aren’t! A certain percentage of the populations are just idiots. Based on personal experience I peg it at about 15%. However, certain activities, professions and/or technologies afford greater opportunity for the idiots among us to reveal themselves. For example: I hear it all the time that there are more idiots on bicycles than there are driving cars. Not so. Believe me I know plenty of car drivers that would do the same things cyclists do if the car would fit on the sidewalk; but it doesn’t! Car driving idiots are restricted by the physical limitations of the vehicle. It’s the same with all other forms of idiocy; manifestations are limited by circumstances, not profession, vocation, or inclination.
  34. Banning technologies will not reduce the number of idiots. Okay, there is no denying that an idiot with a gun will do far worse damage than an idiot with an accordion. (Mostly) But take the gun away and they will still be an idiot, only now they will be a pissed off idiot with an axe to grind and they will likely grind it and use it to do even more damage. It does make sense to severely limit access to technologies that can do harm; fireworks, chemicals, chainsaws, and yes—guns. But banning them outright punishes the non-idiots as well as the idiots. It should take 3-6 months to get a gun license. We need to keep them out of the hands of idiots. We don’t necessarily have to keep them out of the hands of everybody.
  35. One of the best things about turning 60 is you aren’t expected to like everything that’s “cool.” If you hate mindless hip hop that talks about nothing but sex well, that’s okay because no one really expects you to like it once you get to my age. Actually, they don’t expect you to like anything else less than 40 years old for that matter.
  36. If you do like something new it makes younger people re-think their whole world view on your generation. A while back we were driving around with my phone tapped into the car stereo on “shuffle”. When Flatfoot 56 came on the “young folks” in the car were stunned into silence. Spent the next several kilometres looking and me with faces that indicated actual world-view altering thought was taking place. Priceless!
  37. A person breaking their promise to me is NOT a reflection of how much I mean to them. I used to think it was, but I’ve come to realize that broken promises are far more likely to be an indicator of how stressed, damaged, tired and hurting they are. We have created a society that puts so many unrealistic demands on us that far too many of us kill ourselves trying to fulfil, it should come as no surprise that even important things get lost in the clutter on the bedroom floor.
  38. However, how willing I am to forgive a broken promise is a reflection on how much they mean to me. This is the hard half of the relationship equation. We all want to be the centre of our own little universe, but few of us truly are. Forgiveness is the only glue that can mend a broken relationship. Why are so many of us so reluctant to use it?
  39. BTW Facebook has not diluted the meaning of friendship; that was happening before it came along. I am truly stunned by the insignificance of some people’s “deal breakers”. I know a guy who was friends with another guy for 20 years. Second friend needed a new car; came home with a Chevy. First friend told him get a different car or we aren’t friends any more. Second friend say, “are you f**king kidding me??” He wasn’t. They haven’t spoken in 5 years. See this kind of thing way too often. Stupid!
  40. I’ll be Bach! Hated classical music as a kid. Thought it was boring and stupid. But then one day I hear Bach’s “Musical Offering” on TV. Can’t remember the show or exactly how old I was (before High School though) and I remember sitting and listening very intently to the whole thing. I liked it. I liked the sound of it and especially how the music seemed to spiral like going up and down a spiral staircase. Still love to listen to it.
  41. Pick your heroes carefully, but remember they won’t be perfect because nobody is. I used to be a big fan of O.J. Simpson. The story of how this kid who couldn’t even walk grew up to one of the greatest running backs of all time was nothing less than inspirational. Then the Bronco ride happened and a part of my world-view came crashing down. A few of my more personal heroes have been found to have flaws as well. But we shouldn’t be surprised by this. They are only human.
  42. Hmm, 60 is starting to seem like an awful lot actually. But I shall persevere.
  43. Three day weekends are a mixed blessing. Yeah it’s nice to have the extra day, but the weekend is inevitably followed by 5 days work that has to be done in 4 days.
  44. I once fancied following in the footsteps of Thomas Merton. In fact, more than a few people have said they thought I would make a fairly good monk. I suspect this was motivated by the desire to see me sequestered away in a monastery where they don’t have to talk to me. Sometimes when I look at the world around me, I wish I had.
  45. How to tell you are NOT a bad-ass. Simple; if you care whether people think you are a bad-ass or not, you are NOT a bad-ass.
  46. If you can’t be bad-ass, be crazy. Bad-ass people frequently get out of the way of crazy people.
  47. There are worse things in life than being a red-shirt (expendable). You could be the local life form the bridge crew is accused of murdering. (A not entirely essential character that could be replaced by a mannequin at the stroke of a bean counter’s pencil.)
  48. Before the Internet a lot of ideas would have never seen the light of day. Most crazy notions just remained inside people’s heads where they belonged. One day somebody will have to answer for setting them free.
  49. I’m busier at 60 than I ever was at 30. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s because I feel time is running out. Maybe it’s because there seems to be so much more to do these days. Maybe I’m just as busy but it feels like more because I’m more tired than I used to be. I don’t know. But—who cares? I’m having fun.
  50. Most people suppress their inner child, I bought mine a bicycle. I’m surprised it took me this long to write about this. Maybe it’s because I’m on a forced hiatus. But I love riding a bicycle more than any other form of exercise, sport, or recreational activity. (Yes, even more than that.) When I ride I feel 16 instead of 60. Broken bones and all I will not consider myself truly old until I can’t ride any more.
  51. The bicycle is the solution to most First World problems. Traffic jams, overloaded infrastructure, obesity, burgeoning healthcare costs, the hectic pace of urban life, air pollution, climate change, stress, connectedness and sense of community; all these things and more can directly or indirectly be improved by increasing the use of bicycles as a mode of transportation, even in northern climates. They just can.
  52. I haven’t changed much in 60 years. Honestly, I haven’t. Okay then – the last 40 or so. But as an adult I really don’t feel like I have changed that much. I just find I simply care less about who knows the real me. I used to worry about fitting in, being a part of things, being accepted so like many people I wore different hats, different masks. Now, I don’t care so much. I am who I am and if you can’t accept who I am, it’s your loss not mine. My values and attitudes are the same; I’m just more vocal, more public about them. It may be only one change, but I guess it is a pretty big one, and may well be the greatest benefit of getting older.
  53. No one who wants to hold public office should be allowed to do so. Either their motives or their sanity is in question. They will be wrong for almost the entirety of their public career. The chances of affecting real change are far greater in the street than in the hall of government. A good person has as much chance of improving the political process from within as 5 gallons of fresh water has of making an oil sands tailing pond more potable. This is not an original idea but I buy into it more and more the older I get. It’s also all I’m going to say on the subject of politics.
  54. Family is not always the people you are related to. In October my brother is getting married for the third time. He’s not related to me by blood, but in many ways he’s closer to me than those who are. This doesn’t mean I don’t love my two brothers (by birth); not at all. It simply means I can’t think of family without including my brother-from-another-mother. I have a kid sister, a son, and a daughter/niece (still wrapping my head around this one) that kind of fit into the same category. I like it. Feels right.
  55. There’s a world of difference between being alone and being lonely. There is. And many of us would be much better off if we could learn that difference. The trouble is so many of us are afraid to be alone. We want the company of others so we can avoid being with ourselves; because if we have to face ourselves then we have to deal with the often uncomfortable task of finding out who we truly are. But therein lies happiness. (Remember the chipmunk? #5)
  56. Being alone also helps us when we are with others. Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” What makes this awkward is many of us do not love ourselves. How can we, when we don’t even know who we are. I’m not talking about narcissism; I’m talking about becoming truly content and fulfilled in just knowing and caring for the real you totally aside from what you do for a living, where you live, who your friends are. Those things are not who we are, but who we truly are will direct how those things manifest in our lives. Once we know and love that person, loving others gets a whole lot easier.
  57. If I ever develop an allergy to dairy, the only thing I’ll miss is ice cream. #56 was kinds deep, felt the need to lighten things up as we near the end. But really, with Roberta’s allergies affecting the contents of the kitchen, about the only dairy I still indulge in is Butterscotch Ripple ice cream. Would be hard to give that up.
  58. I’ve never been addicted to chocolate. I know that #57 made some of you say, “But what about chocolate?” Please understand me; chocolate is good. I like chocolate. I enjoy chocolate regularly. But there is actually a lot of stuff I like better. If I had to give it up, I could. Just sayin’.
  59. Sometimes I wish my parents had moved to Australia. My parents left England for health reasons. My mother couldn’t carry children to term in the extremely damp climate. She had 2 miscarriages before emigrating here. So they had a choice between Australia and Canada. They had one contact name here in Guelph, no one I Australia; so they came here. Don’t get me wrong, I love Canada. But I hate winter. Truly. Could live without hockey. Don’t care to ski. The snowmobile would stay in the garage. Been injured on ice skates every time I’ve tried. If I’d had a vote at time I would have picked Australia.
  60. Whenever some say the list is endless, it means they’ve run out of things to say. In this case I could say more but I won’t. I’ve met the goal and I’m glad I did it. If you stuck around this far—Thank You! Now get off the Internet and go enjoy life. See you later.
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