Turning 67

Boats of Venice, George Henry Smillie

This will be something of a hodgepodge of a post. I tend to write a post on each of my birthdays because they are for me, sort of like the New Year – a time to think, look back, look ahead. I get pensive around birthdays.

It is also an essay on one of my artist’s dates. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of an Artist’s Date, it comes from a wonderful book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. “The Artist’s Way” is book about recovering your artistic life when the rest of life has conspired to beat it out of us. I discovered the book about 15 years ago or so and it was life changing. Enough so that I use elements of it in my coaching (and not just for artistic clients) as well as in my on-line classes.

The concept is that going for an “Artist’s Date”, in other words, going out to do something that inspires you, on a regular basis is good for our spirits.

This particular artist’s date was at the Fenemore Museum in Cooperstown, NY. My wife read about an exhibit of American Artists painting Venice, and knowing (as many of you do,) how much I love Venice she thought it would be a good thing for me to do. (She is usually right about such things.). We went Saturday, the day before my birthday.

Santa Maria della Salute, Day, bu Walter Launt Palmer

Yep, yesterday was m birthday. 67.

Sixty-seven is not a cool birthday. Birthdays with zeros on the end are cool birthdays. A new decade. All your friends reminding you how old you are, no matter if you are 30 or 70. And there are other cool birthdays too. Twenty-one is cool. I thought 64 was cool, and that whole year I sang the Beatles Song “When I’m Sixty Four”. Someone at church told me sixty-six is a cool birthday because of the song about getting our kicks on Route 66.

But sixty-seven is just another birthday. It has not been a landmark year in any particular way. It’s just a marker in what has been so far, an interesting life, full of the normal about of joy and struggle, success and pain, loss and discovery. I feel like I have kind of coasted through the past year, like something is bubbling underneath, but it hasn’t quite made it to the surface, and so I keep living and learning and working and waiting to see what comes of it all.

Maybe 67 will be the year it shows itself. Maybe not.

The Grand Canal, Venice by John Ferguson Weir

Sixty six has been the year I finally felt recovered from my cancer and all the treatments. After three years of surgery and meds and radiation, I have my strength back. I have my energy. It’s a good feeling. It has allowed me to do my work at something resembling full strength, and has let me pursue some new things, new ideas and directions.

I’m like that. Every seven or eight years, I get the urge to do something new. We change in six or seven years and often our world or our work does not change with us. After a time, I get to the point that I almost HAVE to try something new. The growth of the past few years insist on it. So one look at my career and life, and you will see that pattern. I was due one of those changes, just starting it, when the cancer struck and I was stymied. So this past year was the year I could begin again.

Venice by Herbert Faulkner

I haven’t made a rousing success of it. That’s a bit frustrating. I’ve generally stumbled into success no matter how utterly unqualified I was. Not this time. I’ve learned a lot. I am closer I think. But not quite there. Maybe 67 is the year. And that would make it a cool year.

So, back to the art exhibit on Venice. For as much as I write about Venice in poetry and prose; As often as I post pictures of it to illustrate writings, I have only spent a week or so there. Maybe ten years ago.

It is amazing how a brief period of our lives can define so much of our life afterward. For me, for instance, a week in Venice colored everything. It still does. The very first day, arriving late in the afternoon from a train trip from Rome, I dropped off my bag and found my way to Saint Mark’s square. It was a misty/sunny kind of day and there were not many tourists about. I ordered a high-priced cappuccino (the price goes up the closer to Saint Marks you get, I think) and just sat, feeling so completely at home I was almost in tears.

Campo Santa Margarita by Ernest David Roth

Don’t ask me to explain it. I had never been there. Other than some reading before I came, I had never been obsessed with Venice. But almost from the moment I was there, I felt more at home than I had ever felt anywhere. It was like falling in love at first sight, but there was more than that falling in love feeling. I felt at home. Comfortable. At ease. In the week to come, even when I got lost wandering the back streets of the floating city, I felt at home. Everywhere I went, cafes, cathedrals, music halls, shops, the back streets. Everywhere.

Leaving was painful. I still get homesick for it. Over the years I have often looked for ways to go live, make a living there, and stay. Obviously, it has not happened. But Venice? It’s still in me.

Santa Maria Formosa, Venice by Maurice Brazil Pendergast

Going to the exhibit made me homesick. Isn’t that strange? And a bit Melancholy. I am already often a bit melancholy on birthdays, and this was a stronger version of it.

I discovered something. For some background to what I discovered, you need to know I am blind in one eye. It’s not big deal. It’s always been the case so I don’t miss the sight in my right eye at all. It has a host of implications however. For instance, if I happen to be walking by you and you are on my right side, I might miss you all together. I’m not being rude, I am being blind.

Another side effect is that when I use my camera (yes, I still use a camera, not my phone to take most of my pictures) and look through the eye piece, whatever I am focused on fills the entirety of my vision. So, when I focused my camera to take photos of the paintings, they filled my entire vision. It felt like…… being there.

Open Aire Market by Jane Peterson

After doing this with several pictures, filling my vision with each one, I felt like I was there. I heard the water. Felt the bustle in the markets and cafes. Saw the light (which is remarkable). It was wonderful. And it made me more homesick.

I spent a lot of time the past couple of days thinking. Feeling. Allowing the feelings, which is not always easy for me. Facebook of course alerted people that it was my birthday and I got a remarkable number of people (maybe some of you reading) wishing me a happy birthday. My kids came to church (virtually). I had notes from all my lives – my youth in Richmond, Virginia. My young adulthood in Roanoke, Virginia. The churches I have been a part of – Colonial Avenue Baptist, Troutville Baptist and of course, where I serve now, Rupert United Methodist. I had notes from people I have worked with in my various, changing every seven or eight year itterations.

Even allowing for the number of people who just automatically type “Happy Birthday” when facebook tells us to (Come on, you’ve done it. So have I), many of the notes were personal. Deeply felt. And very humbling. To matter to so many people, from so far back in my life? Considering how I see myself as just another guy?

Drying the Nets by Walter Launt Palmer

I can remember going to my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. My grandparents had lived in the same little community for their entire lives. And the place was full of people who had known them their entire lives. There was such love there. Such regard. I can remember thinking “I would like to have people feel that way about me when I am old.”

But of course, I life did not work out that way. I have some wanderlust. I’ve changed careers. Changed cities and changed states I live in. I’ve lost one marriage and begun another. Compared to my grandparents, I’ve lived quite the hopscotch life. And yet, out there, people still care for me. I cannot tell you just how humbling that is. I simply don’t have the words.

But I think I get it. People come and go out of our lives and some make an impact even if they are only there for a while. Not unlike how Venice made an impact on me after just one week.

I can remember a particular pastor (He is modest, so I won’t mention his name) who came into my life just after my divorce. Most of you know what a dark time that was for me. We really did not have a long time together, as either pastor or friend, because about a year or so after I met him, I moved up here.

But in that year, he reintroduced me to the reality of Grace. And coming to that understanding, in my heart and emotions, not just as an abstract idea, was life changing. A short while. A life changed. That maybe I have done that for a few folks in my 67 years? Humbling. And hopeful. It gives me hope that my life, so far, has had meaning.

On the Grand Canal, Venice

That last picture, just above this text? I think I took about fifty versions of that same shot, with various kinds of boats in the image tied to ancient apartments on the canals, while I was in Venice. I have used them in this blog. I go back to look at them over and over again. After going to the art museum, I went back and looked yet again.

A small boat (me) tied, ready to go out into the waters, to take a journey…. somewhere. In a city of history, a journey. Yes, I see myself in that. Old as I am, I see myself in that.

Maybe 67 is the year.

Be well. Travel wisely,


One comment

  1. As they say, having a birthday is better than not having it! In any case, best wishes! I dislike them all, not because they mark passing time. Maybe I just never like fuss of any kind. I try to keep a very low profile. Interesting about being blind in one eye. I have diplopia that is proving difficult to correct so I may go to obscuring one lens. No doubt better than seeing two of everything! Here’s wishing you a good year going forward. You are still young!

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