Someone asks you, “How old do you really feel? In your heart, how old are you?” Most people my age say they feel like they are 21 or 35, maybe 40 years old—nowhere near the 60, 70, or more that their drivers’ licenses reveal. As for myself, I have no answer to this question, but my birth certificate tells me I’m turning 70 in a few days.
For years I’ve been threatening to run away, but never actually did it. This time my threat took wings and I have found myself high in the Rocky Mountains, in Telluride, Colorado. I have rented a small condo on the San Miguel River for a month. Here in the valley the elevation is over 9,000 feet, and I am at the base of a mountain where the elevation is over 10,500 feet, beyond are the 14,000 feet peaks of the San Juan range. My aging lungs haven’t quite caught up with the reduced oxygen up here.
So I came to the mountains looking for God, listening for Him to give me instructions, a blueprint for me at 70. I am facing this looming birthday with trepidation. I want to reboot, to leave behind the pains of the past, the destructive habits, the pity story that I have slogged through for so long. No more squandering the precious time I have, no more being mired in a past that will never change, no matter how long or how intensely I turn it over in my head.
What I haven’t yet embraced is that the past doesn’t have to form an unchangeable person. How many times have I do-si-do-ed around this? Even the mountains change. They change seasonally and have changed totally in the millennia since the formation of the Earth. Waterfalls and small streams continue to erode the rock, creating crevices and valleys. Just overnight there was a small landslide that brought red rocks tumbling down over a mountain trail. If the enormous mountain looming over me can change, then so can I.
So I have come to this town in the Rocky Mountains seeking change, transformation. I read a Richard Rohr meditation this morning that said, referring to the Gospel of John (John 12:24-25), that part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger. Whoever loves his life loses it. I need to leave part of this old woman on the mountain. Leave the old hag who has let pains of the past hold her back from living fully in the present. But I’m afraid; I can’t take anymore loss. I want people I love to stay. I want my youth to stay, but it slips out of my fingers.
Out of nowhere, a couple of nights ago, I heard the words, “Just be. Just be happy.”
I was stunned—but no doubt where those words came from.
And I pray: Lord, show me how to love my life exactly as it is. Let me live simply in the sacrament of the present moment. Let me embrace the losses as part of the natural transitions of life. Let me look forward to the unexpected things that I can treasure in the next phase of life. Show me how, Lord, show me the way.