(with apologies to Mr. Lawrence “Yogi” Berra)
“I didn’t really say everything I said,” Yogi famously retorted, upon being asked if the many koan-like dictums with which his name has become associated were his own invention. Among the more familiar: “When you get to the fork in the road, take it” and “Baseball is ninety percent mental; the other half is physical.”
Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, likely never did say all the things attributed to him. But being the good sport that he was, he played along, and today we remember him both for his accomplishments on the diamond (lifetime .285 hitter, 358 homers,18 All-Star appearances, a plaque in Cooperstown) and for his occasional mangled sentences. He likely made more verbal errors than the on-the-field variety: As much of a star as he was at the plate, he performed equally well behind it, regularly being recognized as one of the hardest working and most proficient catchers in baseball history.
I take this journey into baseball nostalgia while contemplating my own “Yogi-ism” about the third half of life (at least, I think it’s my own; maybe Yogi really did say that one). We all know about the second half of life. Of midlife and its crises or, as I like to say, its opportunities. Of the personality changes that accompany it, as noted by no less a figure than Carl Jung. Of the unsettling internal questioning that can accompany those years, typically listed as between 45 and 65, a rather broad swath of a person’s lifespan, when you come to think of it.
That second half of life is now in my rearview mirror—been there, done that, got a closetful of T-shirts. As I observe it fading away—somewhat regretfully, somewhat thankfully, always nostalgically—I readily embrace my present stage of life, well into the third half (which, you must admit, sounds better than “old age,” or, even worse, “elderly”), a time during which things take a decided turn toward . . . well, let’s find out. As a public service to all my younger readers and a token of solidarity to those of my own generation currently navigating it, here are my reflections upon life past 70, as I have experienced it to date in the social, vocational, spiritual, and physical dimensions of life.
Reaching the third half of life has gotten me more in touch with the enjoyment of family. (There’s a dose of penitence in that sentence, but I’ll forgo that discussion for now.) Fully embracing the Father archetype rather late in life, I find myself appreciating having the whole family together. Enjoying a healthy meal. Sharing our latest adventures. Sitting around swapping stories. It all just feels right. And being the paterfamilias, and deep into the “anecdotage” stage of life, I get to hold court with a plethora of too-often-repeated tales, some of which might actually be true.
Outside the family, there’s little that can top a meeting with an old friend for a cup of coffee at the local watering hole. Or the men’s spirituality group that has enriched my life in more ways than the spiritual. Or the psychotherapy group that offers the joy of communing with and learning from professional peers.
On the down side, being in the third half of life also means losing friends and relatives. In recent years, teachers who had worked with me during my school principal days have passed away. And some of their spouses. And children. I’ve lost several college buddies, one of whom I had reconnected with after twenty years of lost contact when I discovered he was in prison. Every relative of my parents’ generation and a few of my own—all the aunts and uncles, several cousins, and both parents—are deceased. It’s just the eight Brock sibs left, scattered over two countries; I fear we won’t all reconnect again until one of us dies.
The professional world that I have found myself in during this third half of life has been, well, more than I deserve. Other than following my bliss through the years, a la Joseph Campbell, I haven’t been overly intentional about career choices. Nonetheless, well into the traditional retirement years, I’m enjoying rich, meaningful, purposeful work as a counselor and teacher. And since the gift of old age is wisdom (if we open ourselves to it), both of those activities can continue to nourish me for years to come.
My seventeen years as a student in Catholic schools were filled with learnings and wonderings that I will always treasure. With rare exceptions, I loved my teachers and to this day remember and deeply value their words and example. At the same time, my life experiences and continuing learnings have led me to newer ways of seeing things that are less about what one is to believe and more about how one is to be. Borrowing spiritual philosopher Ken Wilber’s signature insight on the evolution of thought, my newer ways of thinking, a more humanistic approach to spirituality, both “transcend and include” the Catholicism of my youth. I see it as having far more to do with what’s being gained than with what might be lost, and I’m reminded of St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 about setting aside one’s childish thinking.
Where did this come from? I think of the influence of writers during my twenties and thirties like James Michener, whose sprawling novels opened me to the universality of human suffering and striving, and M. Scott Peck, whose musings on the intersection of psychology and spirituality helped me understand that life is not reduceable to either/or dogmatism. Countless teachers, authors, and mentors, far too many to mention, have broadened my horizon well beyond those early teachings, leading to new understandings of what the world has to offer and how one is to respond to it. For all that they taught me, I am immensely grateful.
No doubt about it, I am no longer the massive, studly, macho hunk of a man I was in my thirties and forties.
[I pause here to allow for the snickering, chortling, and guffawing to abate. Thank you.]
Let’s try again: OK, whatever fantasies I might entertain about my physical prowess during the two or three weeks of my prime some forty years back, I’ve definitely lost a few steps. A few flights of stairs would be a more accurate metaphor. Two years ago, four decades of running were replaced by brisk walking at the bidding of a balky knee. Never say no to a balky knee is my new motto.
The last time I went hiking with my son and one of my four brothers, I embarrassed myself throughout, needing breaks every quarter mile or so on a hike up a mountain between Flagstaff and Sedona. The change in elevation from the 500 feet of my Dallas home to the 9000-plus of the northern Arizona mountains took a major toll on me. Not that long ago I bragged about not being affected by elevation change; those days are long gone.
I avoid driving at night because, frankly, I just can’t see as well as I used to. For that matter, I also avoid driving on the Dallas freeways at any time because it scares the hell out of me. The newly reconstructed I635, the busiest freeway in Dallas, was apparently designed by a former NASCAR driver, with input from an undertaker. It is to be avoided at all costs.
I need more breaks between things and more “me time.” And sitting in the sun time. And retreating to the New Mexico desert time. I just need everything to slow down a bit, ya’ know what I mean?
I can’t hear well in crowds, which is just fine with me because, frankly, I don’t like crowds. Thankfully, my conversational hearing one-on-one appears unaffected by old age. One-on-one conversation is priceless, the stuff of life. It’s also basically what I do for a living.
Finally, I’ve forgotten what an uninterrupted night’s sleep feels like. And various bodily functions . . . well, perhaps it’s best I stop right here, for which, dear reader, you will no doubt thank me.