Some countries have “coming of age” ceremonies for those reaching 60, marking the fact that a person has become an elder in the community, setting up an expectation that light should pour forth from this person now old and experienced enough for their main contribution to be wisdom rather than widgets, prophecy rather that profit.
When I turned 21, I was all ready to change the world. That’s not a bad thing for a 21-year old. At 60 I find myself asking how much change can any one person really effect? Keith Grint points out that even the US President has all kinds of people pulling his strings, telling him what to do, not least his wife. Nor can any leader lead without followers, so who has the real power, the leaders or the followers?
As I look at the flowers in my garden and as I play Debussy’s Reverie once more today, I am dazzled at how many tiny objects of beauty can come together to display a whole canvas. I aspire to the idea that my life can be an indigo petal or a chord of F#m6 in just the right place at the right time. Right now, that’s lunch with my wife.
Yet I am neither despondent nor cynical. I can indeed bring about a tiny amount of change, and six billion people together can bring about massive change if they are not working at odds with each other. So there’s the key. What little bit of change am I uniquely qualified to make? Just a drop in the ocean, but oceans are made up exclusively of little drops.
That’s why I have made it my habit lately to pay more close attention to what the spirit is doing in me and around me, and to attempt to co-operate. That’s why in my sixties I plan to focus more on mentoring than on doing, because in a strange sort of way the mentor is one of those followers who can empower the mentee in their leadership. Perhaps it takes until you are 60 to realise how little you can control, but once recognised it feels freeing because one’s responsibility becomes faithfulness rather than productivity.
I will never forget Bill Blaney, the CEO of Global Aid Network in Canada, talking about the anguish of arriving at a disaster scene and feeling overwhelmed by the amount of need, and the impossibility of addressing it all. Yet we can defy both optimist and pessimist by saying “I can’t do everything, but I can do something”, and get on with it.