Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

At 59, what I know for sure really isn't very much

The older I get, the less I seem to be sure about what I used to think I knew.

Life is much more complicated than it was at age 10, 25 or 40 — or at least it's less crystal clear than it seemed to be back then.

There are very few absolutes, I've learned, and my anxiety-ridden, conflict-averse, middle-child self is working really hard on being OK with that.

When I was in fourth grade in the 1960s, all I wanted was a hardcover set of my favorite Marguerite Henry books: “Misty of Chincoteague,” “King of the Wind” and “Stormy, Misty's Foal.” I was convinced my life would be dedicated to equine-love, not the love of humans, because one was eminently more accessible and easy than the other.

By the time I was 25 I was married and working full-time as a newspaper journalist. I dealt in facts, figures, inverted pyramids and the occasional deftly-executed escape maneuver when my publisher wanted me to cover three night meetings in a single week. Black and white were the main shades on my color wheel. It was nice believing I was in control of my destiny.

I was comfortable yet not complacent, and I liked it that way.

Then along came my children — two girls and a boy within the span of five-and-a-half years — and that status change alone made short work of the illusions I'd formerly held that the world and my place in it were “decent and in order,” as the Presbyterians like to teach.

Mornings were a blur of diapering, breakfast prep, backpack-sorting and minivan rides to ballet lessons and the pediatrician for well-child checkups and refills of amoxicillin. At night I fell into bed too exhausted to wonder if I was doing motherhood or marriage right, but still I was convinced that if I kept the kids and my husband fed and wearing clean clothes, life would continue unfolding as it was meant to be.

In my 30s and 40s a niggling sense that unknowable outside influences had the potential to invade my tidy suburban bubble in a shadowy Pandora's Box kind of way lingered in the back of my mind. Mostly, I ignored that feeling. I consumed rolls of Tums and exercised.

Then, when 9/11 hit with the tidal-wave force of a million broken dreams, I was forced to face the truth that nothing — nothing at all — is secure. At its best, life is a beautiful, fragile, challenging soul-mess. At its worst, it's Groundhog Day at Ground Zero in New York City, where survivors of those lost in the terrorist attacks must get up each and every day and try to forget they have a lot in common with Job.

See? Unpredictable, tender, terrible and precious.

I turned 59 on Tuesday, entering the orbit of my 60th turn around the sun. I'd like to lope forward over the next 12 months whistling "Every Little Thing's Gonna Be All Right," but I'm having trouble believing that in the wake of a year that brought us fake news, Emailgate, runaway misogyny and Trump.

Who knows what 2017 has in store.

So I'll be reading Rumi poems and checking in with Netflix whenever I can't bear to make another Snopes inquiry online, immersing myself in alternate realities I can live with.

It's all part of the adventure, and I'm grateful.

Nancy Townsley is managing editor of the News-Times and the Hillsboro Tribune.