According to this Ed Koren cartoon in the New Yorker, my sixties could be a decade of wisdom. I’ll take that. The medical appointments, not so much. But I have six years to go.

When I turned fifty in the pandemic, I wasn’t able to start the new decade with a birthday bash and a new theme like I did when I turned 30 (my decade of writing) and 40 (my decade of narrative). I didn’t really know what that theme would be, though. Instead, I spent the last few years sailing high with a new job and the anticipation of a new house but also struggling to get out of the bottom of a barrel of lifelong, bottled-up emotions.

Last summer, I committed myself to a practice of mindfulness and to more deeply knowing myself and my loved ones. I sat down on a therapist’s couch and learned to listen to my feelings. I started each day with pre-dawn meditation on the new porch. I called my brothers and my parents and my friends and leaned into those conversations. (One of my friends told me he’d long recognized I had managed conversations like an interview, rarely sharing anything personal or showing vulnerability. He’s my career coach now, and helping a better me show up.)

Throughout these years, Sunday soccer has kept me healthy and likewise helped me grow. One morning last fall, I hustled just a bit less intensely than usual, and that minor adjustment made a major difference. I had the ball at my feet, dribbling confidently, going to the goal, aware of the defender, and I held the ball a moment longer than usual, then saw the narrow opening and I shot for a goal. That moment of clarity lingered with me for weeks.

That day, too, I actually recognized something I’d missed in nearly 10 years with these guys — they were having fun. They were joyful, exclaiming in one language or another (most Sundays there are men from five continents on the pitch) about each good pass or trap or goal.

These lessons, I realized, had illuminated an important theme: listening. Looking back through more than 20 years of blog posts, I see that I’ve been yearning for a deeper listening for most of my life. (A key part of the Voices of Duke Health project as the listening booth.) It’s a perfect theme for my fifties, and all the rest of my days.

So, then, an update on my decades: Live in my 20s. Write in my 30s. Tell stories in my 40s. Listen in my 50s.

And the career coaching has me looking ahead to my sixties and a possible theme that might resurrect the long table concept I once explored: I imagine myself at the dining table with family and friends, deep in conversation, telling and listening to stories, smiling in fun and clarity.



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