I know you have a birthday coming up soon and while presents are wonderful and I have no problem in obtaining one for you, I thought this 52nd birthday of yours deserved to be a little special, so my gift this auspicious year will be different.
I’ll preface this letter by telling you that I think I’ve only recently learned that life is about risk, taking chances and at least, occasionally glimpsing over that scary proverbial edge. As you know, I just turned 76 in January and I’ve come to the sad conclusion that I’ve spent my life in a safe vacuum, unwilling to do anything that might affect my health, well-being and longevity.
But all I did was compromise my happiness.
I reflect back on my life, as I’m sure you’re doing, and I didn’t think I had any significant regrets, but I do. Your Aunt Stella and I were too frightened, for reasons that I can’t even fathom now. We read every self-help book; believed every news report about the evils of eggs, saccharin, beef, red M&M’s, alcohol consumption and smoking.
What predicated this letter to you? Realization mostly, inspired by an email I received around my birthday this year.
Seems this fellow visited his regular GP for a check up when the test results came back, he called the man back into his office. He asked the Doc how he was doing medically. He told the guy that he was “for a man of his age”. The man was a bit rattled by the response, since he’d tried to live the healthiest life possible.
So, he told the doctor, “I’m not sure what that means. I consider myself to be a very careful, very healthy 76-year-old guy. I’ve tried to live by the book, so what do you think, Doc? Will I live to the age of 85 and beyond, maybe?”
The doctor just looked at the guy and cocked his head. ”Well, answer a few questions for me. Do you drink alcohol of any kind to any degree? What about drugs? Do you eat red meat, Bar-B-Q beef and pork with all the trimmings and endure periods of stress and insomnia?”
“I do none of those things. I sleep fairly well, too!”
He squinted his eyes. ”Do you work out? Race cars? Do you gamble, bowl, watch sports, play pool, have evenings out with the guys?”
“Oh no, no! I exercise in moderation only. I don’t want to risk injury. Gambling is a vice I want to live without, thank you and sports is nothing but relatively civilized savagery”.
He asked, “No lifting weights, crunches?”
“Never. Plus I rarely socialize. My wife is my best friend. It’s pretty much just her and I. We watch educational TV and documentaries and we ONLY listen to classical music and the occasional opera. Candide and La Boheme are my favorites. And I’d never risk life and live by driving fast. In fact, obey all speed limits. I’m proud to admit that I drive conservatively in my American-made sedans. Had them all my life.”
He continued on with this questioning. ”Do you like being in the sun, sailing, playing golf, swim, tennis, jogging, cycling or hiking? What about yard work?
“I do none of those things. I’m extremely fastidious. I hate getting dirty. As I’ve told you, I live life very safely. I don’t tempt fate. Unprotected exposure to natural sunlight is a carcinogen!”
He then asked, “What about sex, in your marriage bed or extramaritally?”
“Oh no!”, the guy answered. ” My wife and I care for each other, but we agreed to stop having sex 17 years ago. We figured our bodies didn’t need the over exertion. We’re celibate and we couldn’t be closer! Nor would I or could I ever even contemplate an affair with some tarted up floozie. I believe in the sanctity of marriage and celibacy only adds to the quality of ours!”
He looked puzzled and removed his glasses. ”Really? All you’ve told me is true?”
The man proudly responded “Yes!!. So lastly, do you think I’m going to live long enough to reach 80 and beyond?”
He shook his head. “With the way you’ve lived your life, why would you even give a shit?”
I started thinking about this email and even though I know it’s a joke, it helped me come to the conclusion that I’ve probably never actually lived my life. I merely existed in it. I merely experienced whatever came my way. I never sought anything. Life happened and fear of something I’m not even sure of forced me to live under a rock and, I suppose, a bunch of lies. Namely those which I told myself.
I don’t want you to wake up 30-years from now and wonder if you’ve done enough, read enough, loved enough, been loved enough, helped others enough and laughed enough. I don’t want you to die without ever having seen Barcelona or the Turks and Caicos islands. I want you live your life and take chances. It’s completely worth the risk. Live your life in Technicolor, Laurie. It’s like that damn candy commercial, Laurie: that one that urges young consumers to feel the rainbow. Hell, do one better… live in it.
You’ve got a lot of life ahead of you. In many ways, the best part of your life has yet to unfold. Grab it and go. Anticipate all the wonders that are being laid out before you. In many ways, turning 52 is a gift as is every year you age. It really is. Maybe you don’t regard it as such now, but you will in time. It’s sad that time only stands till when it’s in the past. But look at it this way, at least its standing still which gives you a terrific chance to learn from it from every angle.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must end this tome and make plans for this evening. I’m taking your aunt Stella out for a romantic dinner and dancing. I’m thinking steaks and a terrific Pinot… maybe a bottle or two. Then, I’m calling the municipal airport to inquire about skydiving lessons for this Saturday and if I can secure a lesson at that time, I plan on driving above the speed limit to get there faster, while listening to loud music on the radio and eating peanut M&M’s.
I hope they melt in my hand.
Regrets, Laurie; they’ll age you before your years. So, carpe anos, Darlin’ Niece !!! And have fun. I mean real fun on your birthday. Hope it’s a great one!
Dear Uncle Bob,
Thank you for your letter. It contained sage advice.
You know, I’ve lived a very interesting life and I’ve rarely held back doing what I’ve wanted to do. Accomplishing this was more pressing in my younger years. But make no mistake, I had a good time just living. But back then, I suppose I felt as thought I had all the time in the world to make errors. I don’t feel that way now. I’m learning the definition of “finite” with the passing of each and everyday. And like you, that makes me want to make the days leading up to my end of days, count for something.
Want to know something else, Uncle Bob? I’m OK with the past four decades. I can look back on my life and smile for the most part. That being said, I really don’t have any regrets regarding what I’ve done….but rather, who I’ve done. But those demons continue to be released in the wild. I continue working on forgiving myself for any indiscretion that 25 years later, still makes me cringe. Very soon I fully intend to wake up and realize that all of this is rapidly moving water under a very steadfast bridge.
As birthdays go and the milestones they represent, I’ll turn 52 whether I want to or not. As long as I continue to draw breath, aging is an unavoidable fact of life. I’m accepting that. In the few waning hours I have left of living in the 51st year of my life, I’ll just talk myself down from that miserable, lonely ledge and be grateful for everything. I appreciate this new mindset. I’m beginning to see that every mistake I’ve made was actually a positive move. In other words, I’ve often been right, even when I was wrong.
You know better than most, Uncle , life is very hard. On good days–if we’re lucky–for many of us, all we can aspire to is just settling at the level of “maddening”. It’s not always easy living in the constant effigy and apogee of existence. But this–be it good, bad or indifferent–is our lot in life.
To quote Dorothy Parker, ”might as well live”.
I can make no promises, I’ve learned better than to do that, but I will do my best to make every effort to start loving better and being loved better. I’ll read more, be less cynical, be silent more, go inward more and count my soul’s blessings more often. I might try Ethiopian food, learn what Samhain is all about, learn the Tanakh, learn more about fiscal and emotional charity and all the while, I’ll doff that weight loss nonsense that’s plagued me my entire life and just live life a little easier.
Just this morning for absolutely no reason at all, I drove to Galveston and cruised the beach with the windows open, and an old Emerson, Lake and Palmer CD blasting while eating a bag of of M&Ms.
As you can see, I didn’t even give them a chance to melt.
Thanks Uncle Bob. Your wisdom is always welcome here.