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The measuring tape of life: 'you better get to it'

Rob Wynen’s Musings on turning 50
life-sized manakin of Abraham
The life-sized mannequin of Abraham at the Wynen house. It’s a Dutch tradition that the family puts a mannequin in front of the house to indicate the 50th birthday.

We all have activities on our back burner we want to get to, when time permits. For me it is getting back into photography, a hobby I was into while in university that got sidetracked when everything went digital. While I have bought a decent digital camera, its usefulness outside of holding up a stack of books is limited. With a full time job, long commutes, my council duties and keeping our gardens from going back to the wilds, time just doesn’t seem to allow for it now. I relayed this to Bob on the ferry a while back who proceeded to pull out a measuring tape, I wasn’t going to ask him why he carries a measuring tape with him. How old do you think you are going to be before you wind up in the memorial garden he asks. 85, I say. Bob proceeds to extend the measuring tape out to 85 inches and asks me to point to where I am at now, I just turned 50 last week. It was an instant visual representation of how short life is. The message, you better get to it.

It is something most of us who have crossed the over the hill mark can relate to, as with skiing, going down is much faster than the up journey. Time flies and before you know it you begin to wonder where it all went. It is so easy to just put yourself in cruise control, let the days role by. A client of mine, Peter, in his early 80s remarked on how easy it is to not appreciate the everyday moments of life, to not appreciate the things we do on a day-to-day basis. It is so easy not to have the awareness and give into the daily grind. Peter showed me how he avoids getting into this mindset. He pulled out a small note book where he writes down some simple events of the day, and scores them on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being an incredible day and one being a day he would rather forget. I didn’t see any ones or 10s, which is to be expected, life rarely shifts from despair to fireworks, but there were lots of sevens and eights – not bad – but days that are easy to forget if you are not paying attention. Peter also had a habit of planning something new for the next day, what a great way to break up the monotony of life. It also focused him to not get into worrisome, non-productive, anxiety-producing thought patterns.

I was recently sitting in my woodshed overlooking our garden, my cat was playing with some poor critter and our rooster was cockling away at full volume and here I was thinking about some Telus bill that I still needed to get sorted out. If you had asked me for my most desirable scenario on Bowen, I pretty much was living it yet here I was thinking about a most inconsequential task, not enjoying what I had right in front of me. How did I let my brain get here and how do I get off of this brain wave. If this beautiful moment can’t get me into the moment, what will? I sometimes wonder if we have a worry centre in our brain that just needs to be fed. At least it was only an irritating phone bill, my problems could be much worse. The problem of course is when this worry centre becomes too big, starts to eat away at our other thoughts and begins to occupy too much of our day-to-day lives, even when we have it so good. Living in the moment seems like the right thing to do, but can be challenging. Worrying about the future can often creep in, even when we can’t do anything about it in the present. It requires trust that we will be able to handle it when it needs to be handled. As the saying goes, you can only see as far as your front headlight, but trust that you can make the entire journey that way.

Turning 50 has been an interesting experience. My Facebook ads have changed significantly, hair loss products, early retirement plans and electric vs push pedal bikes now jump out at me when searching social media. Seniors no longer say, “oh you’re still so young.” I get a lot more, “welcome to the club.” In my Dutch culture, 50 marks a turning point in a man’s life that is symbolized by the figure Abraham, a sign of becoming wise. We’ll see if that happens. 

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