Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: What Is Left from the Past

Society has conditioned us emotionally to think of the achievement of a certain number of years as a critical turning point in life. For some it is thirty; for others it is forty or fifty, etc. The critical age may approximate what is commonly accepted as one-half life expectancy; or it may come when one senses a time of passage from one stage of life to a very different stage. Some people become panicky as they approach a passage. Have you ever observed someone making the passage of forty? We look back to see where we have been and what we have accomplished; and we wonder if the next forty will be the same as the first forty. It is a time for reflection which can be sobering, depressing, even frightening. Recently, when I realized I was but a few months of being an octogenarian (ten years beyond the biblical statute of limitation - three score and ten), I thought of Lord Byron, the rebel poet. Born in London in 1821 as George Gordon, he wrote on his thirty-third birthday:

"Through life's road so dim and dirty

I have dragged to three and thirty

What have these years left to me

Nothing except thirty and three."

One wonders what Byron saw (or failed to see) in his first thirty-three years that moved him to write such a depressing evaluation of his life.

He became an English lord upon achieving majority age. He was brilliant and uncommonly wealthy. When he died at age 36, he was found to have one of the largest brains, by weight, of any ever recorded. Why in the world would such a brilliant, wealthy and noble man be so depressed upon reaching what he must have considered the half-way point in his life? If we wanted to moralize about Byron, we could find plenty of ammunition with which to do so. His moral debauchery and spiritual poverty are as notable as his fiscal, mental and social assets. His childhood would chill the blood of a psychologist. His teen and early adult years would curl the hair of most people (not to mention the remainder of his life). For all that we may know about Byron, we cannot fully understand why his past looked so empty to him at thirty-three, but it did. And, Byron is probably not the only person we know to whom life looked bleak at the turn of some critical year such as thirty or forty.

There are people with many beautiful years of time left in their lives who, in despair of their past, hold no hope for the future. They feel trapped in a cul-de-sac of time. One of the greatest, truest, and most noble thoughts of human beings is that "no person need remain the way they are". We can be different. We are in control of enough factors in life to break the bonds of the past and become different. There is absolutely no sense in the assumption that the last half of life must be as the first half - good or bad. Abundant resources are available to us. Insights, life's springboards for change, are available to us in religion, psychology, history, philosophy, and all the varied experiences that we have in life.

There are things that happen to us in life over which we have no control, but we can control how we respond to what happens to us. What have our years left to us? You are the only person who can give a specific answer to that question, but if you are reading this you can be sure that the years have at least left you alive; and if you are alive, you can make your future different from your past if you choose to do so. Start today. Hurry!