Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | November 22, 2015

On Being 65

One life in icons. Mine minus relationships.

One life in icons. Mine minus marriage and offspring.

So, I turned 65 years old.  And the Universe replies So, what?  Well, age 65 is worthy of some retrospective.   I made this chart – and upgrade from 2013 when I tried to tell a tale in icons.  Because, that is what my life is – a story.  A breathing narrative.   I know my place in the scheme of things, so my telling isn’t the narcissism of a professional pol on any day for any occasion but just the sharing of a story.

Speaking of icons, on my birthday my youngest daughter gave me the most extraordinary cake of my life – a cake covered in icons from my life.  Pictures will follow in this blog post.

The graphic above tells much of my life – minus marriage, children and grandchildren.

Read from Left to Right.

My ancestry mattered much in shaping the culture I come from.  Cue: Country song, ‘Where I come from’.  Culture commands.  What happened in the past 400 years shapes what language I speak and think.  What is right and wrong.  What family, faith and freedom mean.  How to be a man.  Etc.

Like all good Southerners I was raised on oral history.  Then, I became a history nerd in my own right, reading to make connections between my life, family, and history.

The longest thread was a tale I was told when I was about 8.  The whole story was, “Once our Clan won a great battle.  We defended from a house on a hill and killed many of our enemies.”  That’s it.  No names, dates, places.  But, guess what, that thread I was told about 1958 came from the victory of the Highland Clan Gunn in 1586 where 140 enemies were slain.  1586 to 1958!  The story got thinner and thinner through the years.  Didn’t say if it was the always-hated Keiths or the neighboring, thieving Sutherlands or Mackays – who were continually shifting friend to foe and back again as the tides turned.  But, it was a point of pride for a distant victory – family valor in fighting.  That was the message.

So, on the icons on the far left indicate I’m from the Clan Gunn and other Highland and Lowland Scots and Scot-Irish.  Add English.  And a smidgeon of Welsh and French Huguenot.

Cool cake.

Cool cake.

When the ancestors were kicked out of wherever, they all went to Virginia.  Then, Momma’s People went to upcountry South Carolina when it was frontier.   Daddy’s People went to West Tennessee when it was frontier.  The frontier experience shaped generations.

All defended their homes from invading Yankees during The Recent Unpleasantness.  That’s when the oral history really kicks in.

November 18th, 1950.  Daddy is an Officer in the 83rd Engineer Battalion, US Army.  Momma is awesome Momma. I have two older sisters and a huge German Shepherd who guards me and responds to my father’s commands in German.  I’m born a Bubba.   And, Atticus – 7 years older than the book.

Different names for different times and duties.

Different names for different times and duties.

As a boy, I lived in Oklahoma, Arizona, France, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, France again, Germany and Virginia again.

Step off the side of the world on July 1st, 1968 at West Point, New York.  Emerge from the United States Military Academy for 20 great years – Airborne, Ranger, Infantry Officer – at The Infantry School, 82nd Airborne, 2nd Infantry Division, 24th Infantry Division, Jungle Warfare School, Northern Warfare School, teach at West Point, 2nd Armored Division, 3rd Armored Division, finishing at Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).  Spend my youth serving as a soldier.  Still unswervingly loyal, faithful and dedicated to the United States Army.

Frozen chosen - Winter 72-73.

Frozen chosen – Winter 72-73.

Earn graduate degrees at Harvard and Columbia.

Retire from Active Duty and work over 20 years as a contractor.  Mainly for the Army.  All about ‘Futures’.  Write a first novel.  Activist in Virginia politics.  Incorporate – BowdenHouse Inc.  Now, starting up Virginia First Foundation.  Teach Sunday School.

'Rosetta 6.2'

‘Rosetta 6.2’

At age 65 – I’m “Papa”.  I’m grateful for vigorous good health.

The background is the King James Bible.   Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, the light, and the way for family and me.

The cake and my graphic don’t mention marriage for over 38 years, 3 children and 4 – soon 5 – grandchildren.  Daughter Maggie spoke to all that in her toast.  And, anyone who knows my voice knows they are my all and all.  All of me.  Nellie Katherine is gone from here and alive in Heaven, but she isn’t really gone from me.

Now, at 65 a new chapter – actually a new book – begins.  More icons to come as the Lord Wills.  A voyage begun.  Committed to a different path – meaning the unforeseeable future – however long it is.  Life is hope.  Hope is life.

I live in a place that I call “Sanctuary.”

I’m telling one, wee tale.  Just speaking one story – and sticking to it!  Hopefully for the sake of the other characters – and the occasional reader.

"Life is short." "God is good. All the time. No matter what. NO MATTER WHAT."

“Life is short.”
“God is good. All the time. No matter what. NO MATTER WHAT.”



  1. Inspiring!

  2. You are about a year ahead of me. I have less to say about it. I suppose I could say I am not one for reflection, but that is not true. The things I tend to contemplate could be self destructive. I dwell on my mistakes, focus on what I should have done differently, and wish I could correct my mistake. Yet as recent president said” “there are on do-overs.”

    A few days ago my wife surprised me and asked me what I would do differently if I could. Why that question? I don’t know. I suppose I should have asked, but I thought about the answer. I said “no.” I said God plans our lives, and if that is true, then this life is probably the best. Whereas I would save my pride, God would save my soul.

    I cited Romans 8:28. My lady doesn’t think highly of the Apostle Paul (not her favorite parts of the Bible), but the answer seemed to satisfy her. I guess our Father in heaven at least saw to it that I passed that “test.”

    • CT, I think you passed with high marks. To accept life as it is and keep living it with courage as a Christian man is a high, worthy calling.

      I didn’t mark my icons with success or failure. I’ve had both. Humiliating failures. And, a dark night of the soul. Times of regret, as well as family memories that were, shamefully, Jerry Springer moments.

      I admire old Paul so much. He was so full of puffed up pride in his religion, until he met the whole purpose of his faith – the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Then, he became one tough, dedicated man of bold courage.

      You have your icons for your years. And, even if you made a list of mistakes, it would look like a path of stepping stones behind you that brought you here.

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