Today is my 60th birthday.
Today is the day the curtain rises on Act III of my life.
Act II ended when I turned in the keys to my philosophy department office at the University of Colorado on the final day of May and ended my 22-year tenure as a professor there. This summer has been one long sweet intermission leading up to this milestone birthday and to this coming Monday, when classes begin again at CU and I won't be there. And now Act III begins, the best act of all.
I started a new little Act III notebook to write my goals for Act III and little bits of wisdom to guide me along the way. Much of the wisdom came to me via my sister, Cheryl, who posts a wonderful quote every day on Facebook from some famous person in honor of his or her birthday. Of late, so many of them have been perfect nuggets of Act III wisdom.
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is give us." Tolkien
"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year." Emerson
"Look closely at the present you are constructing. It should look like the future you are dreaming." Alice Walker
And this one I clipped from the most recent issue of the Oprah magazine:
"On the day I die, will I be glad I did the thing I'm doing now?"
The theme for Act III is the awareness of mortality and how it increases the preciousness of each moment and gives a new urgency to the question of how we spend our days. I no longer have any time to squander.
Now, it's important to be clear on what counts as "squandering." An afternoon spent reading in a hammock is not a wasted afternoon. An evening spent walking with a friend or a dog is not a wasted evening. A morning spent gazing out at the mountains is not a wasted morning. At the end of my life, I'll be glad I did all those things. My four pillars have always been the same, the four things that make every day a joyous one for me: writing, reading, walking, friends. Those will be what structure my third act as well.
But Act III is also a last chance for even bigger adventures. If I'm going to live in a garret in Paris, or go on a walking tour of children's literature sites in England, or write the best book I've ever written, I'd better do it now.
Of course I know that Act III will also bring with it the challenges and undeniable losses that come with age. In case I had forgotten, I got a birthday email this morning from the Boulder Institute for Sports Medicine, where I had my broken foot treated this past spring, a seeming reminder that they're standing ready for my upcoming wrenched shoulders and fractured hips. Thanks for the nudge, Boulder Institute for Sports Medicine, to savor every single day that I can walk unaided, to savor every night that I can sleep without pain. And without challenges and losses, what would be the plot of Act III? Any writer knows that the ending is only sweeter for some struggles along the way.
At least that's what I'm telling myself on this beautiful morning of my 60th birthday, as I await with the excitement of a small child (and the hard-earned wisdom of a woman no longer young) for what the next thirty or forty years will bring.