I was 65 years old yesterday. I guess I'm now officially entering late middle age. After age 50, most birthdays are forgettable, anyway. But such was not the case for my 60th. The day before, I had fallen through a rotten board on a boat lift I was painting and broken 5 ribs when I hit a steel I-beam on my way down into the waters of Lake Brazos. After driving myself to the ER, I ended up spending the night in the hospital.
The next morning I told the hospital staff that if I wasn't released by 3:00pm, I was simply going to walk out as there was a party that night at my house. Not surprisingly, the discharge papers were all completed by 2:55pm. I was not going to miss that party because, months before at a charity auction, a friend and I had won a catered dinner for 20. At the party that night, I remember being convinced I was really happy. Granted it could have been the painkillers, but it also may have been the people or the food. OK, it was the pain killers.
So now it's 5 years later. By objective standards, my life has fallen apart since that party. Gone is a marriage of 36 years, as well as an adored 27 year old son, a business of 25 years, respect, my cool stuff, and some of the friends at that 60th birthday party.
But I'm still here. It takes consistent effort to battle boredom in prison, but I'm not unhappy. Thankfully life is measured not by objective standards but by grace. As George Orwell wrote, "The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, and that one is prepared, in the end, to be defeated, and broken up by life which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals." If Orwell is correct about the essence of being human, then I've never been more human. I also think he's saying that if our earthly life had a final exam, the only question would be not whether we won or lost, it would simply be how and with whom we lost.
Far from nihilism, there is true value, even nobility, in that kind of defeat. The peace that flows from losing to grace abides in the journey and in the growing that takes place along the way. The idea is powerfully portrayed by the poet Rilke's 4 simple lines describing Jacob's wrestling match with the angel.
Winning does not tempt that man
For this is how he grows:
By being defeated, decisively,
By constantly greater beings.
Happy Birthday To Me, A Loser