Watching sports on TV this month, and turning 64 too, has stuck a metaphor in my head like a basketball wedged between the backboard and the rim; I shall relate it here in the hope that some pointed words, properly flung, may poke it loose.
“Is it a basketball analogy then?” you ask, trembling.
NO! Worse: It’s football. Go sit on the bench and listen.
Reaching 64 is like entering the Red Zone of Life.
I mean, if life (as I suspect) is a journey towards G-d, then you embark from your own end zone, unable even to see the goal line that seems so far away.
You face a long, difficult and sometimes painful path, but as the game wears on you gain more confidence. You feel that you’re the quarterback here, and can call the plays.
At the same time, you also become more and more invested in reaching that goal line, seeing that you have teammates who have put their own efforts into the game and seeing how your life has depended on them in so many ways – and theirs on you. You know how indebted you are to them, and you know that if you fail, you’re letting them down, too. This realization is a tremendous burden, but it also increases your determination to keep going. (And even if you’re the best, smartest, most athletic player on the field, in many situations you need good luck. The great American philosopher Jimmy Dean once said, “You gotta try your luck at least once a day. Otherwise, you might be going around lucky all day and never know it.”)
As you make your way downfield, sometimes you make progress through luck and sometimes through your own skill. You suffer many losses, but somehow you keep moving and, if you’re lucky enough to still be playing when you reach your mid-60s, you begin to see the Big Picture. You start to understand what your role has been, and to gain the wisdom to evaluate how you’ve been doing, what plays have worked best for you, and why, who your most reliable teammates are and who you’ve most liked having on your side.
In my own case, there have been precious few spectacular, long completed passes (I did win a ticket to see the Beatles in Shea Stadium in 1966, after which I promised G-d I would never ask Him for anything again; I did, while pregnant, break that vow and through grace alone did indeed give birth to a healthy child). Many times I have been thrown for a loss (my mother died when I was 9; I was divorced when my daughter was in first grade). But in general, it has been three yards and a cloud of dust on every play, after which I rise bruised, confused and weary. Overall, I’ve done about average.
But dear G-d, it’s been fun! And now, the goalposts are just ahead. The long, long field has become a very short one. Things are much simpler here; everybody’s bunched up together. Extraordinary speed and long passes are unneeded; just plow ahead and don’t fumble.
It’s also much more exciting now than it’s ever been; more is riding on each decision, because you have so few left to make.
How do I want to be remembered? Have I forgiven everyone? Will my teammates think of me with a smile when I’m gone, and say I gave it everything I had?
The funny thing is, I have never figured out the game plan. I’m not even sure there is one — if one is ever needed. As I embark on my 65th year of life, I’m getting the idea that maybe just grit and luck is all you need.
And, as the Beatles said, Love.