This is not something anyone can tell you for if they do, you probably won’t believe them. In my 20’s, I thought I knew everything, and I did from my perspective as a twenty something year old. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I had survived the racial rebellion of the late sixties, college, the war in Viet Nam, (by luck of the lottery draw,) a marriage, and a divorce. I had lived abroad and I held a management position in Corporate America. This is what I believe is referred to as “the know-it-all arrogance of youth.” I knew I didn’t know it all, but I also felt unstoppable, and I was a bit at that time arrogant. As a Black man seeking equality in White America, I had to be.
Then in my 30’s I started climbing the corporate ladder at a fast track pace. My primary focus and measurement of success was how often I received a promotion. I lacked any true personal identity. I was a corporate man in all the material ways. My nickname in the neighborhood was Mr. IBM. I wore three piece suits, drove fine cars and dined with beautiful, intelligent, sexy women. This was truly a “golden age.” It couldn’t get any better than this, or at least that is what I told myself.
During my 40’s I started to ask the important questions concerning the quality of my life. What is important to me? Am I doing the work I want to do? Am I happy? I did not view this self examination as a “crisis.” No, it was an opportunity to switch gears in midstream if I so chose. It was a time of awakening. I left the corporate world and stripped myself naked of the material abundance to which I had become accustomed. I sold the car, gave away the televisions, suits, skis, tennis rackets, and everything else which had become a symbol of the person who no longer existed. I decided to add back only those things which were necessary for my existence in the world. I traveled lightly without all the encumbrances which at one time seemed important and/or necessary. I sought a different way of being in the world. This was my “golden age.” I was free to be me for the first time.
At the age of fifty-two, I found my soul mate. A beautiful spirit who was fifteen years my senior. A woman with whom I could share my heart and soul, and know I would not be judged, only loved, even more, if that was possible. We would be side by side forever, at least that is how we planned it to be. She died eighteen months later during a white water boating accident while on vacation in Mexico with her daughter and grand daughter. They survived. It was during this period of my life that I suffered the greatest despair and agony of all my time in this world. I was ready to give up, but I knew that is not what she would want me to do. So, I kept going. This too was a “golden age”. I received three gifts during this time. I learned the joy and pleasures of love, the heart breaking grief of loss, and the knowledge that life goes on.
Today, I have been on this earth for seventy-one years. As a result of the lessons learned during my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, I live my life the way I choose. Presently I am retired and living in Cuenca, Ecuador, learning Spanish, and exploring the fascinating world outside my door. Before here, I lived the last three and a half years on Vanua Levu in the Fiji Islands, a hundred yards from the South Pacific. Each segment of my life when examined individually has merit, but when explored in the totality of seventy-one years, it has purpose. I am supposed to be here. There is no doubt in my mind. I only know this due to having lived the life I have lived. I understand the value of life and I am grateful for the time I am allotted. I listen to the echoes of my own life and I am comfortable with my body. This body has endured the most changes over the years and I am grateful for its endurance, strength, and good health.
There was a time during my youth when the future was all I thought about. Today, in truth, I give it very little thought. I have not reached the “know-it-all complacency of old age,” (whatever age that is) and I still have “enough not-yet-calcified intellectual foundation with which to integrate and contextualize” new ideas. I read, I write (poetry, essays, a dabble in fiction), I think, and I dream. For me, life gets better as I grow older because the innocent wonder of the child returns with age, and blends with the wisdom gained through the experience of being alive.
Yes, the mid-twenties to late thirties are a “golden age,” but it is not the only one. Each age of my life has been my “golden age” for what I bring to it from experience, and for what I am learning from it by living. There is not just one golden age for us during our lifetime. There are many. May all your ages be golden. Believe me the best is yet to come.