Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future…Courage is what love looks like when tested by the simple everyday necessities of being alive.
~ David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
What’s it like to be 60? Well, as my Dad used to say, “It beats the alternative!” Yes Dad, I have to agree. It does beat the alternative. The gift of 60 years has given me the chance to belong, connect, give and receive. It has allowed me to develop the courage needed for “…heartfelt participation with life, with a community, a life, a future.” (Whyte).
My 60th birthday was a celebration filled with warm reminders of the gifts that fill my life. Nature cooperated, providing a warm and sunny October day. Friends and family shared warm wishes and lovely presents. A surprise dinner with my son and his girlfriend capped off the day, and birthday greetings are still arriving. These are not “belated” as far as I’m concerned. They let the celebration continue.
As a child, I looked in the mirror first thing on the day after my birthday. Did I look more grown up yet? I never saw any changes in my appearance. I did the same thing on the day after this year’s birthday, and you know what? I still didn’t look any more grown-up than I had the day before! I’ve realized by now that getting older is not an overnight event. The day by day changes are small and imperceptible. We can only see the changes between then and now when they can accumulate for more than a day.
If we’re fortunate enough to get to grow older – and after all, not everyone gets that chance – we gain the courage that is created through a life of belonging. Being part of an evolving community of others profoundly “… affects us, shapes us, and breaks our heart…” says David Whyte (Consolations, p 40).
Maybe getting older isn’t about milestone birthdays and mid-life crises. Maybe it’s not about focusing on what we’re conditioned to fear about aging, either. Remembering that growing older means becoming more deeply courageous helps me appreciate how much it really does beat the alternative.