The Hollow Men

:::this is the way the world ends:::

Thirty-Three

I have been contemplating this place and time in life–being 33. It is an interesting but hard to define stage. I have particularly been trying to explore the concept of the Jesus Year, as Jesus was supposedly 33 for the bulk of his ministry, betrayal, and death. The concept is that by the age of 33, you should have done something big–perhaps not have saved us all from sin and hell, mind you, but something large in terms of a contribution. Do we die a metaphorical death in this year? And if so, what is on the other side? What does it mean to contribute something, and something big or important, by this age? I’ve been trying to think through this a bit, and write about it in some way as a project.

What does the Jesus Year hold for you, and what do you make of this idea generally, and in terms of your own lives?

For me, I’m interested in finding larger struggles beyond myself, and maybe that’s ultimately what one can do that lives up to, in part, the example of Jesus. And yet. Here, this year, I’ve been given everything–a good life, companionship, good work, and even a more flexible schedule so that I can teach this fall (something I’ve wanted for a long time) and so that I can write (something I’ve always wanted). Why does this still seem like it falls short? Why are my struggles still primarily with myself? Is this part of the experience of being 33, as a sort of crossroads year? A year in which I know many of my peers are far more successful in terms of what the culture says is successful? Why is it that I still can’t eat right, exercise right, balance my life? Maybe the Jesus Year is the year we are supposed to compare ourselves to Jesus, yes, but really what we do is compare ourselves to everyone else?

But more generally, does this stage of life have any common or universal traits among the culture at large? Are most people already married? already married and divorced? having children? getting higher promotions? running for office? changing jobs? moving? taking up some cause?

I thought you would all be interested in this, seeing as, for a little while longer, at least, we’re all 33, our high school and college classmates are, most of them, 33, and I suspect several of our friends, cousins, and others around us are 33. And we haven’t had a larger question posed lately, so it seems like a good time. Any thoughts?

3 Comments

  1. On a humorous note:
    1) I never expected you to hold the record for “Blog Entry with the Most Uses of the Word “Jesus”. I entirely expected to hold that myself, or maybe Toby.
    2) It sounds as though you’re looking for the “meaning of life”. Sorry; I can’t help you. But if I find it, I’ll certainly let you know where to go to get it.

    On a serious note:
    I think there is more in this than I have time to respond to right now. Perhaps this can be an on-going discussion. It certainly is interesting in terms of my reading in the Mismeasure of Man right now. Where Gould topples past scientific notions of innate intellectual abilities and shows how these notions derived from very biased, if very subconscious, notions.

    The theologian Paul Tillich predicted that the greatest affliction facing modern man in the western world in the twenty-first century would be anxiety.

    I can certianly relate to feelings of unfulfilled potential or inadequacy, but I don’t feel I’ve crossed an “age bridge” that will somehow spell my succes for the rest of my years. I have some goals and I intend to accomplish them. I do think that much of what ends up making me happy and bringing meaning to my life are not the achievements that I set out to accomplish, but the things I aready have… my wife and my kids, my friends and family.

    This somewhat relates to discussions we had very early on about discontentedness. Something I’ve always felt to a degree, sometimes much to my dismay. To follow the Jesus theme here’s a quote by Simone Weil.

    “For it seems to me certain . . . that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer the truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. Even if one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

  2. I was sort of working up to 33 this year. I felt poised to accomplish a lot creatively. But as it turns out I had a lot of other work to do. So far in my 33rd year and the months before I have spent a lot of time caring for my family (in illness and death), renovated a house, officiated a wedding ceremony, bought a house, sold a house and been promoted. I have been too busy responding to what life dishes up for me to really consider the metaphor of it all. In fact, I haven’t really looked at more than a few pages of a book for the last two months. Nonetheless, I do feel very fortunate to have had these trials and to have the love and support of many people in my life and though all of it I can’t help comparing myself to those who don’t have to opportunity or resources to face these challenges.

    As far as Jesus goes, I sincerely doubt that he ate very healthily either.

  3. Ned, contrary to your assumptions perhaps, I’m someone to bring up Jesus more than you might think. As your Weil quotation suggests, perhaps that comes more in the quest for truth than for Jesus, per se. I really like the Tillich idea about anxiety being the next great struggle of humankind. I think you’re right in that you suggest the antidote is to find meaning in what you HAVE accomplished–relationships, art, teaching, whatever–rather than dwelling on what you haven’t accomplished. That makes a lot of sense, but is very difficult.

    J.E., you’ve likely had the most up and down year, and though you don’t normally stop to consider the metaphor, perhaps there are several senses of death and rebirth in your 33rd year. And of course, the fact that you performed the pastoral role of wedding officiant also seems somewhat Christlike. That also suggests you haven’t just been in a reactive role this year, but have also made your own place in an active sense. And you’re right not just to compare yourself to those in seemingly enviable positions, but also to those in more challenged situations. True.

    I can’t help but think about the metaphor of it, of the Jesus Year. Maybe that contributes to anxiety, that desire for life to reveal its meaning in the way that a gospel does, or a story, or song.

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