Birney Imes: On turning 60

August 20, 2011 11:16:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Last week a photographer emailed me a picture he''d taken of the folk artist L.V. Hull of Kosciusko. In the picture, the late Ms. Hull is standing in her yard filled with cast-off items -- many of them men''s shoes on sticks -- that she''s decorated with her trademark multicolored polka dots. She''s wearing a hat (also polka-dotted) and holding a similarly decorated sign on which she''s painted, "Take time to appreciate." 


If I were preaching a sermon today -- and, in a way, I suppose this is one -- I would echo Ms. Hull''s sentiments. 


Today I turn 60. 


Someone asked me what special plans I had for my birthday. When I said I hoped to spend much of the day working outside among plants and then with my family cool off with coffee ice cream, he seemed disappointed. 


You see the obituary pages filled with people younger than you, and you realize each day is a gift. As you age -- assuming you are blessed with good health -- the days are richer, more precious. If you''ve been in the same place long enough, the landscape around you is infused with memory. 


A parking lot you use every day was once a grocery store you walked to from your grandmother''s and where you could buy a soda from a vending machine for a nickel. Next door where an interior designer has her shop, you could stand on the sidewalk and watch Cokes being bottled. The next building was a Woolworth''s 10-cent store with a mesmerizing candy counter. I remember the dark wood floors and the merchandise laid out on horizontal wooden cases. 


In 60 years you''ve had time to learn and forget a lot of stuff. Billy Collins has a funny poem about it -- "Forgetfulness." Google will find it for you, just as it will retrieve information your brain no longer can. 


In 60 years, if you''re blessed with children as we are, chances are you''ve had time to watch them develop into distinct individuals. I''m sure there''s at least one cliché about grandchildren being a reward for living a long life. It''s true. I''m fortunate that my mom is still alive. Just as I could never have imagined being 60, I expect it''s just as hard for her to accept she has a child that old. 


At 60 you''re a candidate for village elder. An uncomfortable number of people call you sir. You get free coffee at some places and a dollar off at the movie. Be grateful for small blessings. 


As for wisdom gleaned from the years, I don''t know that I can add much to what Ms. Hull has to say. Slow down and appreciate your blessings. 


A friend the other day told me about a sermon he heard Glyn Wiygul preach long ago. 


"It''s stuck with me a long time," my friend said. "He preached, ''If I were the devil, I would encourage mediocrity.''" 


"You do things to just get by, half-assed, and everything eventually just falls apart," my friend explained. 


Spurn mediocrity, the pastor preaches. Do whatever it is you do well. Something well-made, well-written, well-done, even well-cooked, is not only a tribute to the doer, but it elevates all who come in contact with it. And, quality endures. At 60 the idea of things enduring takes on heightened meaning. 


My friend also mentioned another sermon themed "the fleeting moment when you''re not too young or too old." 


I''m not sure exactly what the preacher meant by that. I''d like to think I am neither and that my "fleeting moment" will last for many more years. One of my daughter''s friends, who lives with her granddad, assured me, saying I''ve got at least 25 more good years. 


To be realistic, when you hit 60 you know life is finite. You''ve crested the hill and you''re riding down the other side. You can plant an oak tree from which you might never see the acorns. 


It''s liberating in a way. You don''t mind wearing a polka-dotted hat. Things once important are not so much now. You''re 60 and if you''re going to do it this lifetime, and haven''t yet, you''d better get busy. 


It''s Sunday morning and a long, leisurely day stretches out before us. I intend to appreciate every moment of it. I hope you will, too.

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.