Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi A Crutch Lost

By Harry Willson

FEBRUARY 21, 2000:  I remember when I passed my 60th birthday. Ten years before, when I had turned 50, I began using the phrase, "Second Half Journey" in referring to my life. I gathered a file of observations with that label. One can think of life as a circle, a large flat wheel. With no effort you ride along on the wheel. When you're 20, you can look across and see 40 -- sometime in your future. When you're 40, you can look across and see 80, and you'll go ahead and assume that that's in your future. I did, anyway.

When you're 50, you're not so sure. My great-grandmother lived to be 101. My father died of emphysema at age 89; he and all of us believed he could have reached 100, if he hadn't smoked for 75 years.

But now, quite a bit past 60, I look across that wheel of life, which turns faster than it used to, and the other side is a point in the past, not the future. When I wasn't looking, I got into the second half.

When I passed 50, I became sharply aware that I had lost a crutch I'd been carrying since childhood. I found it in the Bible -- a book that I began studying when I was very young. I had fully mastered the content of the stories before I was 20. Then I learned the original languages, Greek and Hebrew, before I was 25.

Anyway, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were cross-examining Jesus. He kept referring to God as his father and kept implying that he wasn't going to die. "Are you greater than our father Abraham?" they asked. "He died!"

"Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day," Jesus said, and one may be permitted to wonder exactly what he meant by that. "He saw it and was glad," Jesus added, meaning Abraham.

"You are not yet 50 years old," they said, "and you have seen Abraham?"

Then comes the famous answer which makes this little section memorable to most readers and critics: Jesus said to them, "Before Abraham was, I am," whatever that could possibly mean.

Well, my little crutch, which I used for decades, was that earlier phrase: "You are not yet 50 years old." I used it to justify failure, procrastination, and a quality I then called laziness. I used this little crutch to justify myself and to get myself back into motion. I told myself, "You are not yet 50 years old, Harry. You still have time. The clock is ticking, however. You'd better get going. If you're going to do something, now is the time to get at it."

"You are not yet 50 years old," I told myself. "If you have made promises which are still unkept, you have x-number of years, or months, to do what you said you'd do."

The 50th birthday became a kind of deadline, an official end of the game which one could see coming and scramble to get ready for. "The clock is ticking, Harry. Do you have plans for what you'll do after the two-minute warning? You're now in the very last stages -- and you still haven't done it! Move it!"

Then, one day more than 15 years ago, it was no longer true. I could no longer say to myself, "You are not yet 50 years old." Gone was that crutch. And now, at last, it feels like good riddance.

I think I have grown a little since those days. What I thought was laziness may have been merely exhaustion, since I was not really idle very often. I have come to regard the impulse to never rest, which I had plenty of, as a form of serious mental illness. All that berating of myself was a waste of energy that would have been better spent in whatever it was I thought needed doing so badly, or in doing nothing at all.

It's OK to kick back, it turns out, to catch one's breath, to take another look at the situation, to ask where all that sense of urgent need to do this or that really came from.

The crutch was really more like a whip. That's how I used it, anyway. And when it was gone, I was better off. It was a bit like the letdown many felt when our Y2K and millennium's-end fears went bust. The world simply moves right along.


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