I’m 72 years young today. Often, I write a bit about my birthday, because it follows November’s Indian summer which is my time of annual, deeper than usual, introspection and reflection. That could strike some as a vanity. But, writing the “Odes to Bubba” would hardly seem so. Although, “Odes to Atticus” could be “kinda” classy.
Earlier this year, I “liked to died” with Covid Pneumonia. Quite ill for months, got a differen kind of pneumonia, got Covid again and blew out a hernia coughing, had the surgery, and here I am. Feeling wonderful to be alive and ready to get vigorous again. Lots of missed kayaking to make up.
Regardless, this year I want to write about the numbers. Numbers to count gain and loss in one life. Numbers that matter to me. Numbers that invite the reader to reflect on their own.
The number 72 makes for fun personal numerology playing off the year 1972 which means so much to me.
In 1972 I graduated from the United States Military Academy with my band of brothers, met the woman I’d marry, and truly started life as an adult and soldier. Now, I’m 72 years old and see these breakdowns in numbers.
18. Grew up with a worldview that has labels – Evangelical Protestant, Southern, Scot-Irish Clan, Army brat. Decided at age 16 to live my life under a vertical hierarchy of duties. Willing to risk my life for a few reasons and volunteered to do so.
54. For 54 years my band of brothers since 1 July 1968 is the 822 men of West Point’s “Proud and True” Class of 1972. I grew from boy to man in their company. I treasure their friendship. I “philos” them as they are. I identify with them as no other. Our mutual respect means more than I can describe.
38.5. As an Army brat and officer I lived 25 places in the first 38.5 years of life. Crossed the Atlantic four times by ship. Lived overseas in Europe and Asia for 11 years. Always had family roots in upcountry South Carolina and a hard connection “Home” with my People in West Tennessee. Moved to my ancestral Virginia at age 6 and loved it as my personal home ever since.
33.5. Now, I’ve lived in 4 houses in one town for 33.5 years. Have one church all this time. Game plan is to leave here horizontally. Blessed for almost 9 years to live in a place of awesome, overwhelming, deeply satisfying beauty on the Chesapeake Bay which I named “Sanctuary.” My heart stays happy here – every day.
18. Went to West Point when I was 17, but let’s give childhood the whole first 18 years. Started doing weekly chores at 7. Started working for wages at 15.
24. Spent 24 years “institutionalized”, as my daughter described it, as a cadet and officer in the U.S. Army. Absolutely loved it. No exaggeration about my service. High highs and low lows, but steadfast devotion to duty. Always did the best I could.
21. Worked as a defense contractor for 21 years for a number of companies – and finally at age 59 for myself. Took that long for this institutional guy to figure out how to be out on my own. Good jobs and bad, interesting and tedious work, provided for my family, and did the best I could in every endeavor.
9. Retired for 9 years. Some close calls for new work that didn’t happen. Still open to opportunity. Remarkably busy, never bored, very active, well-purposed as a retiree.
22. Grew up in the bosom of warm, loving, tight knit nuclear family. Large extended families on both sides with close kin ties. From an early age I knew, “Your name is all you have in life. Can’t shame your name.” “You are a Bowden, never shame your People. Make them proud.”
3 and 38. Three year up and down courtship followed by 38 and half years of marriage until death did us part with Nellie Katherine Kyle Bowden. Just typing her name moistens my eyes. My whole adult life was with my wife. Blessed with three children who we love with all of our hearts. Family defined our life together.
9. Widower who wrote about the first five years of the journey from grief to gratitude in “A Grief Felt.” May seem odd to say, but now I’m the most peaceful, content, joyful, and truly happy that I’ve ever been in my life. Treasure my time with seven precious grandchildren.
12:20:40 and 36:36 Christian
12. Raised by Christians and baptized at age 12. Thrilled to be saved. Ecstatic.
20. Twenty years of inward devotion and prayer. Outwardly, just a guy.
40. Forty years of daily Bible reading. Life changer. Still learning. Still seeing anew.
36. Lived 36 years for my ambitions, aspirations, hopes, and dreams. Had many for family and self. Asked for God’s help.
36. Thirty-six years since I got the messages, “There is a light and warmth on the other side” and “You will not command in peace or war. You will read and write.” I hold myself accountable for the past 36 years. Beat myself up for what more I could have read and written. Hopeful that what I’ve done serves the Lord’s Will. Ask for God’s direction.
From 72 to Infinity.
In this past seventy-second year, I had a remarkable experience when I was just one shallow breath from dying. Sensed my recently departed Sister and my Wife waiting for me to come over. Knew I was going somewhere. Felt overwhelmingly grateful. Getting a gift of eternity that I didn’t deserve, hadn’t earned, and couldn’t do on my own. Felt so grateful to Jesus that I was almost giddy, even though I didn’t think about seeing him, but sensed just my family.
This experience makes my remaining time before I step through the door to eternity all the more special. Every single day. I’ve lived passionately my whole life. Hopefully, in the good meaning of the Scottish “fey.”
Sometimes on long paddles kayaking about, my every failure by word, thought, and deed come to mind. It’s humbling. In turn, my small good and every gift and blessing from my earliest warm memories to now wash over me. Such is life. Just one life.
Life is as the Bible says – a blade of grass, a vapor, a breath, yet – Oh, so worth the living!
Would I like to live longer?
Yes, if I’m healthy to love my children, grandchildren, kin, and church family. Especially, to help my progeny through thick and thin. But, never to outlive any of them. Hard “No, thank you.”
Yes, if I could fight the good fight of the Great U.S. Culture War to win it.
Yes, if I could help America survive and win the global conflicts a coming – which I know is way above my status in life.
Yes, if I serve the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ for as long as He wills.
So, 73 here I come. Lord willing.
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