Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm Fifty and I Don't Know Nothing

Dear Alice and Violet,

I heard about you quite a while ago, and I thought about you deeply at that time. Toni Morrison is the one who was telling me. . . about you, about your lives, about the songs your lives were singing in a blue, blue melody with overtones so pure and so sad.

Well, dears, I just want you to know that I understand and the questions you raise are. . . well, I just wanted to tell you you're not alone.

Here's what you said that caught my ear. Toni was talking, telling me, and I just started writing it down. I was driving at the time. (My writing gets so squiggly when I'm driving, like the line of a saxophone solo, and the sentences get out of place.)

For instance, "I'm 50 & I don't know," is what near-onto stopped me in my tracks, that is, if I hadn't been driving about 70 miles an hour past the big Watt Road truck stop. Now, there is a place NOT to stop in your tracks, with those double-semis roaring across lanes. The lanes from Nashville join in right there. Some lanes hot-foot-it up from the south and some come in from the west. Those drivers are not fooling when they hedge you, in a flash, with a blinking light saying, "Want over! NOW!"

"We born around the same time, me and you," said Violet. "We women, me and you. Tell me something real. Don't just say I'm grown and ought to know. I don't. I'm fifty and I don't know nothing. What about it? Do I stay with him? I want to, I think. I want. . . well, I didn't always. . . now I want. I want some fat in this life."

"Wake up. Fat or lean, you got just one. This is it."

"You don't know either, do you?"

"I know enough to know how to behave."

"Is that it? Is that all it is?"

"Is that all what is?" There's more of this conversation excerpted here.

I do understand, Alice, Violet. Getting old is no trick. And sometimes you look up from your reading, or driving, or laundry, or sewing, or music, or writing of blogs and say, "Hey, wait a minute. Is this it?" And you're not sure what "behaving" has to do with it.

Well, I want to encourage you, not that I'm sure of everything, because I'm just me, but I've lived and come from a family of folks who have lived a long time.

My husband calls me a Communist, but I'm not. I'm just a socialist. And I'm not even a good socialist. I haven't even read Karl Marx. But I kind of believe that in some ways all things are equal. The sky up above our heads and the solid pavement or earth beneath us lend some equality to all things. And, it is the embrace of this equality and availability of good things that can grant to us the opportunity to say, "Yes. That is all there is. Isn't it fine!"

My mother said, the other day, that she was thinking about heaven. She said, "It's so close!" She wasn't fearful. She meant, "Isn't it grand." I was out the other day and saw eight deer in a field. My children were together at Thanksgiving and played kickball in the cold. They let me play even though once they observed my running style, they thought I'd better be the pitcher for both teams.

In spite of what you hear from various sides, both conservatives and liberals, "behaving" does have something to do with living a happy life. You can't spend up your capital. . . energy and money and emotional engagement on foolishness. You can't shut your window and breathe fresh air. You can't run after what doesn't exist and find it. How do I say that in the terminology of behaving? You can't covet something you don't have and enjoy what you've got. You can't be unfaithful to your husband, wife, and family and experience the delights of your husband, wife, and family. You can't lie and still believe. You can't curse and be blessed. You've got to behave yourself.

I'm way over fifty now. I don't know much. But, as much as I know anything, I know that love and faithfulness, beauty and truth, goodness and justice, with a good dose of humility thrown in are investments whose payback is the only payback. So that's what you invest in.


P.S. Christianity is, by the way, about second chances. That's why I believe in the gospel of Jesus. The story there is of redemption. A second chance at the fat of life. Today is always the day for new investment in that which is the real fat.

There is a commonly known passage from the Bible that talks about enjoying the beautiful fields of our lives and following after God and spiritual things in a way that brings fulfillment. It ends with these words, "Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." How fat is that?


cadh 8 said...

I love this post. I read it first on my phone and couldn't comment from there. So I finally remembererd to re-read it again now. I love the end where you talk about the fact that to get the good stuff, the "fat" of life, one cant "misbehave". THe two are mutually exclusive. And that life in Christ brings the ultimate fat. Not because he is a buzz kill wanting to give us an "ani coo-tha" (An Tamil term put here phonetically, which refers to a REALLY hard flick with the knuckle right on the top of the head) when we mess up, but because He is letting us know the way to get the good stuff.
Grandma told me the other day that she was studying Colossians and that she was learning so much. Thank God that we can be 30 or 50 or 90 and still "know nothin'". It's those folks that know everything that have nowhere new to go.

brd said...

I'm glad you liked this. I love your "ani coo-tha" metaphor. That is one that could make a person veer over on the highway too.

Cate said...

I loved this post too. It brings tears to my eyes which is embarrassing, because I'm sitting in the Honda dealership waiting for them to finish charging my air conditioner. As I approach the 50th milestone, I think of change. But you are right, my dear, behavior is what I should be thinking about. I don't know very much except that I used to think I knew more. Aging is very Kierkegaardian--the double movement of aging--losing things we knew better to count on but did anyway while gaining the wisdom born from our foolishness. We can lament or we can laugh. We can react or we can act. My betrothed says that Christianity is cool because it gives us the opportunity to act from our beliefs instead of reacting to the behavior of others. I hope to learn practice this more precisely as I pass the old speed limit. You, Betsy, are a blessing at any age.

brd said...


I finally found your comment. The longer I live the deeper the core of Christianity seems. Perotsky is right, we need not react to the behavior of others. Such reaction is a desire to control what is not ours to control. We just need to act from the core of a belief system that is built on love. (Simpler to say than to do, of course.)

Perhaps if we continue to work on this, we can both become Knights of Aging!

cadh 8 said...

I like how you said, Cate, we can lament or we can laugh. And sometimes we do both together, I suppose. But you are right that no matter what, we can act. I often think back to the question "What is true freedom?" and my 7 year old or so (maybe younger, maybe older) answer "It is to have God in your heart and you love Him". No matter what our circumstance, we still have that internal freedom...that ability to choose and to act. How I could think those thoughts when I was that young, I don't know, but I hope that when I am 90, I am still thinking them!

Cate said...

Carrie my dear. You were always "wise behind your ears" will be when you are 90 I am sure of it.

Carla Royal said...

I am so glad you left your blog link, Betsy, when you commented on my site today. I love reading your words. You are the kind of writer I hope to become one day. This piece is particularly beautiful and appreciated today. I look forward to reading more.


brd said...


Thank you so much for your kind comments. I can tell that we would have lots of common thoughts to share if we had time to talk.

My New Year's Resolution is to get back to my blog. I had to give it up while I finished my master's thesis, but that is done now.

I loved your blog today.