I’m 46 today. I’ve never paid too much heed to birthdays. Just another day. That said, I’d like to think that I greatly value my life on earth so everyday is, generally speaking, a good day. I try to live my life in a thoughtful, deliberate manner. I don’t want to just go through the motions, don’t want to take things for granted, don’t want to function in some sort of auto-pilot mode. When someone asks me how I am or what I’ve been up to I don’t want to ever say: “Oh, the usual.”
As I sit here I have four year old Justin sitting next to me. He’s playing with an AT&T sim card. He’s curious. A minute ago he was playing with the two little plastic containers that each contain one of Kaleesha’s teeth that were removed a month ago in preparation for her getting her grill (her braces). I mention all this because 36 months ago I would have never guessed I’d be sitting on this bed living this life. I had not yet met Kaleesha or Justin or the other six fantastic humans I now live with. My life would soon take a very sharp turn for the better. It was already a pretty fantastic life. I had no idea it could be so much better.
A few minutes ago I was reading through my RSS feeds and came across a post by Matt Gemmell who, as it happens, shares my birthday. He’s 36:
I was born on this day, thirty-six years ago – which means that, traditionally, I’ve already had about half of my life.
Wow. Half-life at 36. I’m 10 years past that. I know that many people sort of freak out at 40. I didn’t. Should I freak out at 46 and the idea that I’m probably past half-way through my life on earth? I don’t think so. You see, I’ve got an adorable four year old sitting next to me making funny faces. Life on earth is unpredictable. For me it has been a fantastic journey. I enjoy great privilege. I know that I’m really fucking lucky. I was born a white male in the U.S. in a middle class family. I’m not going to dwell on that but I do want to acknowledge it because it seems wrong not too. I know that there are billions on this planet, who, at this moment, struggle to live the most basic of lives. I plan to spend some time soon writing about the idea of human ethics in regards to how we care for one another and how we care for our planet. Now is not that time. Back on point Henke.
Whether I live another 5, 15 or 30 years I can say I’ve had a pretty fantastic go of it. I hope to last a good long while because at 46 I’ve got a new partner in life and 7 kids that I want to spend a lot of time with. This is a whole new chapter, maybe a new book and not one I saw coming. And with it I feel the need to search harder for a reason to hope that life on earth might be improved.
In my 20s I wanted to leave the world a better place. I thought we could all play a part. I was passionate, angry and idealistic. Then, at some point in my early 30s I thought that at the very least I’d try to do no harm even if I couldn’t create a positive change. It’s easy to fall into that kind of thinking given the apparent trajectory of things on our planet. I’d had a moment while floating in the ocean in which I had the thought that I was just one cell in the sea, just a tiny tiny human in the briefest of moments in a long expanse of time. Humans are just a brief moment, I was just one tiny life form in the grand scheme of things. A began to understand the greater context. Astronomy and the contemplation of the cosmos only increases the sense of being tiny and yet finding a comfort in that. I find the greatest sense of peace in being just an infinitesimal life existing for just a flash of time. I belong to this Universe. I’m home.
Which brings me to the duck. I call her baby girl mama duck. You see, we got three ducks last spring to keep a visiting Canada goose company. The goose left in early fall but the ducks remained. Two males and a female. We called her Louie and when she had babies in the fall we also started calling her mamma duck. We still have one of her ducklings, a girl who we call baby girl. Well, this spring both mama duck and baby girl started sitting on nests and both hatched out lots of ducklings. So, mama duck is still mama duck and baby girl is now baby girl mama duck. See? Well, as it happens baby girl mama duck was not the best mama and started losing her babies. When someone answered our ducklings for sale ad we were happy that they wanted LOTS of ducklings and yesteday sold the remaining 6 ducklings that baby girl mama duck had not yet lost. But that was a mistake.
Are you wondering where I’m going with this? Bear with me, we’re almost there. You see since selling those 6 ducklings yesterday baby girl mama duck has been very upset. From our perspective, she was a new mama duck that was loosing track of her ducklings and the sooner they were sold the safer they would be. But she was the mama duck and now she’s very distraught. She just wandered by the window and I could hear her quiet quacking. She’s making the rounds and seems to be in a contstant search. ALL of her ducklings are gone she doesn’t understand why. It is a futile search.
It might well be that my human mind is creating a story. Perhaps I’m projecting. I don’t really know what baby girl mama duck is thinking. But I know what I’m feeling about her and my perception of her loss. A very deep sadness for her. And yet just just moments ago I was going on about finding peace and taking comfort in my awareness of the context of my own tiny, brief existence. The Universe is a big place and we are, essentially, irrelevant. Life on earth will gradually fade as the Sun slowly grows in size and luminosity. In a billion years all of Earth’s water will have evaporated into space and in five billion years our sun (currently a main sequence star) will begin to run out of its primary fuel, hydrogen, and will begin a transition to helium fusion. It will expand slowly into a subgiant and then into a red giant before contracting into a white dwarf.
Futility. That’s not quite the right word. Or is it? We are limited. As individuals and as a collective. Just as baby girl mama duck is limited in her perception or understanding of where her ducklings were, we too are limited. And yet, just as she refused to give up her search, so too do we push on.
Today I’m 46. I don’t know how much more time I have left on our beautiful planet or how I’ll spend that time. As I sit listening to the sweet sounds of kids on a swing blending with the many layers of nearby and distant birdsong I do know that I intend to make the most of it. I’ll enjoy each day and will do my best to create meaningful relationships with the people and natural communities in which I live.
The wonder and beauty of this life is to be found in the intertwined processes of exploration, observation and co-creation. It is in our own efforts that we will find and create meaning, ephemeral though they may be. That’s just the way of it.