Monday, January 17, 2011

The End of Restlessness: Mr. Intensity Turns 40

As Amy and I snuck out to see True Grit Friday night, I found myself identifying more with Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf character than with Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn. The younger, greener LaBoeuf seemed more like me than the jaded, grizzled Cogburn. But as I write this blog, and reflect on the reality that I have turned 40 years old today, I must ask myself when it will be that I start identifying more with cagey curmudgeons than with young idealists. After all, does the word “young” even apply to me anymore? And what about that 6-year-old who was jumping on me Saturday morning, taunting me about being “old and 40”?

Resolutions. It’s the time of year when we make – then break – them. Chelsea, at 6, is working on limiting the amount of tattling she takes part in during 2011. I’ve taken to calling her WikiChelsea due to all the leaks she’s spilled on her sister lately. Katie, who is now 9, has apparently resolved to play outside as much as possible, perhaps taking our advice that she has her whole life to watch Teen Nick but only a few precious years of so much blissful free time to venture out and imagine.

My wife Amy has resolved to make no all-encompassing resolutions this year, but instead to take what each day brings and handle it with care. Not a bad idea. As for this 40-year-old, my 2011 resolution is a simple one: to relax.

It sounds so easy, of course. But for a man once nicknamed “Mr. Intensity” in college, making room for down time is about as foreign to me as rooting for the Red Sox. It’s just not really a part of my makeup. I am the kind of person who has always chosen to clean the house over sitting down and watching TV. My young adulthood is chronicled extensively through two decades of to-do lists, day-by-day calendars and white-board scribbles.

A week ago, my last full weekend as a 30-something was filled not with writing or relaxing but instead with a sudden realization that I needed to re-insulate the attic. After six hours of non-stop work, I collapsed into bed only to awaken the next morning with an allergic reaction that led, eventually, to a doctor’s visit and a round of antibiotics. So much for resolutions.

When I reflect on the now-completed portion of my life known as young adulthood, I think of so many fabulous moments – of marriage, parenthood, family life, friendships, teaching, writing, baseball, vacations and service. But I also view my young adulthood as an era of restlessness: No matter how great the moment was, I was always thinking, “What next?” I never felt quite satisfied with the present, and always found myself pushing hard for something bigger and better in the future. While this bespeaks a certain kind of optimism, it also makes it awfully hard to relax.

So perhaps it was fitting that the last weekend in my 30s was spent exhausting my body in order to save on heating bills. It served as a perfect bookend to a young adulthood that began with the mass-mailing of 125 resumes to newspapers across the country. I’m not a 22-year-old embarking on the life of an independent young adult anymore, but I have maintained that restless soul. And while it’s helped me get a lot of stuff done, I have to admit it’s worn me down a bit.

And so 40 arrives. The attic is insulated now, and that should cover a good 25 years. The medicine has me starting to feel better again, as I hoped it would. But will I respond to the return of bodily energy with yet another grand idea that requires 110-percent effort? Will Mr. Intensity be at it again? Which project will the to-do list herald next?

I don’t know. I did ask Amy for some yoga classes for my birthday. I don’t know how it will work out – when I tried yoga 15 years ago, I found myself sitting there thinking about the things I needed to get done during all those quiet moments with the lights turned off. But perhaps two decades of restless exhaustion have produced at least the awareness that it’s time to make this year’s resolution stick. I’m not talking about an end to goals and dreams – they live on forever. But if 40 teaches me anything, it may be that a little relaxation can do more for those goals and dreams than any day-by-day calendar ever could.

Some down time might just slow the pace enough to carry me from a state of frenetic accomplishment to one of peaceful fulfillment. And if that’s where I’m headed, then please, bring on the yoga, the meditation, and the big four-oh. I will trade you my hectic young adulthood in exchange for an era of composure and perspective. It may be a sign of age, but that’s OK. It’s time.