The Days Behind and the Days Ahead

By John W. Vander Velden

I remember a particular birthday. As February opened that year, I recognized my birthday would be a bit different. You see that year I turned ten. I was led to this particular reminiscing because of the birthday I celebrated this week. For you see, once again I had completed a decade.

My family lived in rural central Florida on that birthday long ago. Our family would leave the home we had made in Alachua County less than two weeks later. I’m certain I gave no thought about the fact that in 1962 I had lived a full decade. No, not one. Rather I remember that it was a big deal for my age to gain a digit. For I would be ten.

I have lived a busy life. Hectic at times. Likely you have as well. But like I had in that winter in Florida, I have anticipated the approach of this birthday. But rather that puff my chest out at the idea I would no longer be described by a single place number, I wondered how I have reached this milestone.

For it should be impossible.

I cannot imagine HOW my birthday could be tied to such a large number. So I thought I would work the keyboard as I share with you the thoughts I have in the wake of finishing my seventh decade. As I said before, I thought about the boy of ten. Running over fields, down lanes of deep sand, playing in the nearby creek. Watching out for snakes, Diamond Backs and Cotton Mouth’s were too common. But growing up those years in that country had taught us where we could go and where we shouldn’t.

But even that boy of ten had lived in more than one home, more than one state. Even that fourth grader had already generated a wide collection of experiences, met people from different backgrounds. True my social interactions would not be considered broad to many. But even then I could say I had lived.

I had captured Blue Tailed Skinks. Been bitten by one too. I had seen that stream of water we splashed in during the intense heat of summer, swell after a thunderstorm. Hear the water’s roar long before I neared it. I had seen the ball of the sun when it appeared moon like in the thick morning sky. I had traveled from Indiana to the Sunshine State in a family friend’s 57 Ford Fairlane, for he had gone ahead with Dad’s truck loaded with all our family’s possessions. We crossed the Appalachians on two lane roads, because Interstate 65 was yet a dream, unfulfilled.

And that trek south was not, by my tenth birthday, my only road trip. For during those years we spent in Florida, my parents would return north to visit the only kin they had on the continent. Family meant a great deal to my parents and that thousand plus miles of separation surely aided in the decision to move back to LaPorte County Indiana.

But I have not only thought about the ten year old boy, I have thought about the young man of twenty. He cared little about that particular date. It was the next one that surely mattered to the thin college kid. I remember the depressed thirty year old, upset that his life seemed mired where it was. I had not yet reached even one of the goals I had set for my twenty-five year old self. I had considered myself a failure…then.

I think of the man almost three years married when he reached the next decade marker. He was just beginning to accept his place in the world…began to see his life more clearly. To understand…better…the world of which he was a part, and his place in it. I consider the fifty year old man with the beginnings of complaining muscles and grinding joints. That man was trying to raise the next generation of Vander Velden. His son was only nineteen months from completing his first decade.

It was during that sixth decade I faced an onslaught of emotional crisis. I had faced my mortality and the mortality of those I loved. The three days I spent in the Critical Care Unit changed me in ways time is unable to completely repair. But more the effect of losing my parents has left me scarred in ways no eye can see. But in the end I endured, and enduring is a victory. A victory to be proud of.

So what can I say about my just completed seventh decade?

These last ten years are a period of change.

Retirement…sorta. The aches are more obvious. The tasks I drive myself to do, are different. But perhaps the greatest change to this man now seventy is acceptance. For I try harder to understand others. To meet them closer to where they stand. But the person I have learned to accept, the person that matters most, is myself. That looking back and all the ups and downs…at all the achievements and failures…the bad decisions…the mistakes…I recognize blended within all that has happened is a greatness of this humble man God has created. Not a greatness of my own doing, but of God’s. I have found by accepting me as me, I can accept others for who they are as well.

So I look forward with optimism.

No, I do not know what the future holds for John Vander Velden. Or how many decades my God will allow me to wander upon the green side of the sod. But I take each day as the gift I have been given. I share those days, for now, with my beloved. If I have learned but one thing in these musings is that life is an adventure.

An adventure to be lived!

(974 Words) 2–10–2022

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John Vander Velden

an avid reader and life long story teller, who approaches life with open eyes, hearing ears, and a heart willing to feel.