January 18th was my 60th birthday and it was more than just a great day. It was an awakening. The day unfolded differently than I’d anticipated. Early rising, intense exercise, and solitude were the anticipated words of the day because these are things that, for most of my life, I’ve assumed to be life giving and energizing. They’re the things I usually choose, or have been prone to choose.
I don’t know if it’s the 60 thing, or some other winds of change blowing through the soul these days, but this birthday unfolded completely differently, so the last post, this post, and the next one are devoted to the three things I did differently on my birthday, each of which has changes for the better.
After sleeping in, we soon received texts from the neighbors who were putting together a neighborhood ski day. My wife, ever the lover of getting together and connecting, was all in. I wasn’t so sure. A year ago, when I realized my birthday was going to land on a holiday, I’d secretly declared a goal to myself that I’d ski 60′ vertical feet on my birthday, as a sort of feeble attempt to mock the inevitability of aging. “Take that!” I’d shout after 8 solid hours of hard skiing. Aging would smile condescendingly, knowing that the house always wins. But whatever…that was my plan.
The neighbors have children, and skiing with children wasn’t on my radar. Neither, for that matter, was skiing with grown up neighbors. It would be slower. It would be conversational. It would be limiting. I’ve always, at the least, been as comfortable with a day skiing alone as I’ve been skiing with friends. There are a dozen reasons for that, all beyond the scope of this post.
Suffice it say that when Donna suggested we ski with the neighbors, my response was, predictably, “I’ll do a run with you guys. But then I’m leaving. I need a good workout today.”
Yes. That’s right Richard. Use exercise as an excuse for isolation. It’s worked well before because it sounds so self-disciplined, so good, so pure.
We arrive and are quickly in line with the neighbors, and as fate would have it, I ended up with my neighbor Paul’s daughters: Elizabeth and Georgia. I’d been in rooms with them, at neighborhood parties before, and down at the end of street in the summers when we neighbors play pickle-ball, but I didn’t know them, not really, for the simple reason I’d never made the effort.
Turns out the loss was all mine. We started skiing together and these girls ski fearlessly, joyfully, with a childhood delight that made skiing with them some sort of shalom, by which I mean a window into peace, wholeness, and hospitality. They’d cut into the trees, take little jumps, go literally anywhere I suggested, even as I’d follow them on routes previously unknown to me.
Then there were the rides up on the lifts, learning about who likes math, and who likes swimming, and horses, and about life on a few acres outside Tacoma, and what they do at the cabin when they’re not skiing (checkers, sledding, “hangin’ out”…)
Their dad helped Donna and redesign the space under our deck so that it could become a decent wood storage space. He’s a sort of renaissance man – teacher, inventor, pilot, woodworker – and delightful role model as both dad and husband. I’d had a few conversations with him over the months, but the girls, never.
Until today. By the end of the day, I’d only skied 5200 vertical feet, instead of my normal 20,000, and my ridiculous goal of 60k. But I’d never, in recent memory, enjoyed skiing more. The family would come over later that evening, with other neighbors, for some cookies and milk, a little birthday celebration, and I learned that they actually enjoyed skiing with me, which way maybe the best gift of my 60th birthday. It was a wake up call, a discovery…or at the least, rediscovery.
In this year of my 60th birthday, as I think about what I need to prioritize if I’m going to continue enjoying the life God has for me, a morning of skiing with the neighbor girls taught me a vital lesson:
We’re made for relationships and community. I’d read a great book recently about habits that help make us healthy, entitled, “The Primal Connection” documents that social isolation dramatically depresses one’s immune system, and increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease, concluding that a lack of social connectedness is the health equivalent of smoking a pack a day, or drinking excessively. Wow! Apparently when God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” God’s talking about something that’s good for you, both life giving and enjoyable!
Of course most of you know this, but there are two groups who are vulnerable.
First Group at Risk : There are some of us who write, study, teach, and live inside our heads creating ideas and interacting with ideas – so much so that this cerebral world becomes more important than flesh and blood. I’ll confess to you that this world sometimes feels safer than the messiness of relationship, so I’ve sometimes chosen isolation far too readily. I’m repenting now…and regretting what I’ve missed.
Second Group at Risk: The rest of you. You’re the ones who are better and texting than talking. Better at facebook than face to face. Better at virtual reality than real reality. You’re on the bus not talking to people. You’re in bed not talking with your spouse. You’re eating in front of a screen. You’re failing to understand that eye contact, activities together, and actual contact face to face and heart to heart is the life for which you’re created. You’ve traded that richness in for a fake world, a highlight reel that’s void of vulnerability, authenticity, and human touch.
That birthday gift of skiing with neighbors was more than just fun. It rocked my world, calling me to repent of isolation, especially my isolation painted over with the thin spiritual veneer of solitude, or commitments to health. Posh. I’m praying I’ll spend the rest of my days investing much more intentionally in loving my neighbors, blessing and serving, being in the thick of the laughter, shared burdens, and shared joys that comes from being part of a tribe.
Thanks Georgia and Elizabeth. Best. Birthday. Ever.