Family, Random DJB Thoughts, What's Next...
Comments 3

From certainty to mystery

Today marks the beginning of my annual trip around the sun. In thinking about what could possibly lie ahead, I looked for inspiration to Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age.

Sixty-eight, it turns out, is a pretty sparse year for accomplishments.

At age 68, the English experimentalist William Crookes began investigating radioactivity and invented a device for detecting alpha particles. And at the same age, French President Charles de Gaulle, who resigned 12 years earlier out of impatience with party politics, made a political comeback.

I am neither a scientist nor a politician, so I don’t feel any great pressure to add my name to this list with some never-before-seen discovery or outstanding accomplishment.

Everyone is different. Our desires, energy, ambitions, setbacks, opportunities, values, and perspectives shift, grow, or diminish in different ways through the years. What we sought in our 20s usually differs markedly from the dreams of our 60s. As folksinger Carrie Newcomer wisely writes,

I’ve traveled through my history.
From certainty to mystery.
God speaks in rhyme in paradox.
This I know is true

From certainty to mystery is a perfect description for my history. It is surprising just how much I’ve forgotten since I was sixteen and knew everything.

Now that I’m sixty-eight I worry much less about career and workplace accomplishments, focusing instead on living more fully in the wonder of this remarkable life. I try and take on the advice Mary Oliver has given to writers: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

Birthdays are an especially good time to stop and pay attention. There are important lessons that are slowly revealed as one gets older; lessons I’ve either just discovered or have resurfaced in recent years. For instance:

  • Most of the time everything you need you already have. The rest of the time it doesn’t matter.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Keep good company. Drop the complainers and drainers from your life. Draw energy and inspiration from the visionaries and creators.
  • Choose sympathy over outrage.
  • Life is too short to not enjoy the things you love. 
  • Be humble.
  • Gratitude goes a long, long way. 
  • The ordinary is nothing but extraordinary.

Like everyone else on this planet, I don’t know how much longer this life will last. If I’m like my mother, I have less than 52 weeks. If I am so fortunate as to live into my nineties like my father, I have about 1,000 weeks left.

‘Cause leaves don’t drop they just let go
And make a space for seeds to grow
And every season brings a change
A tree is what a seed contains
To die then live is life’s refrain

Whatever is left of the journey, I want to give up trying to control my life. In its place I want to embrace life’s paradox and liminality.*

And, yes, there are a few things I want to accomplish in whatever time is left. I want to enjoy more drinks and meals with friends. To be more generous with my time and talents. To work where I’m effective to support democracy, equality, and justice. To read more books. To smile more often. To continue to travel as long as I’m physically able. To walk more, and to walk more in nature. To listen more. To talk less. To make sure that the people I love and care about know that without question. To be gratefully aware, not just every day but every hour in a way that leads to true thankfulness.

To try to be nice, but always to be kind.

I can’t wait to see what’s ahead!

More to come…


*Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “There is nothing like paradox to take the scum off your mind.” I agree. And yes, liminal is my new favorite word (and I’m not alone). I first heard it used by Krista Tippett.

Image of street sign in Dundee by DJB

This entry was posted in: Family, Random DJB Thoughts, What's Next...


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.


  1. DJB says

    My friend Chuck Holmes, Executive Director of the Alabama Humanities Alliance, responded to this post on LinkedIn with the following:

    “I look forward to your insights and well-crafted words with each blog post. Keep that keen outlook and wisdom coming. This world needs all of it we can get.”

  2. DJB says

    Jessica Flores of Preservation Forwatd wrote:

    Happy Birthday to you, David. I truly enjoy reading your blog posts. Each one gives me pause to reflect on my own life’s journey. You share your gift of the written word with all of us. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: March observations | More to Come...

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.