I know you have a pivotal birthday coming up and while presents are wonderful and I have no problem in obtaining one for you, I thought this 50th 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, occaisionally glimpsing over that scary proverbial edge. As you know, I just turned 74 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 your 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 a recent visit to a new doctor.
After the first check up when the test results came back, he called me back into his office. I asked him how I was doing medically. He told that I was fine “for a man of my age”. As the family knows, I’ve tried to live the healthiest life possible, but even so, his response alarmed me.
So, I asked him, “I’m not sure what that means. I consider myself to be a very careful, very healthy 74 year old guy. I’ve tried to live by the book, so what do you think, Doc? Will I live to the age of 80 and beyond, maybe?”
The doctor just looked at me 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!” I answered him. 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?”
I proudly responded “Yes!!. So lastly, do you think I’m going to live long enough to reach 80?”
He shook his head. “With the way you’ve lived your life, why would you even give a shit?”
Needless to say, that gave me pause.
I started thinking about what he said and frankly, that’s convinced me 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.
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 50 is a gift. It really is. Maybe you don’t regard it as such now, but you will in time.
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 Pignot… 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 rock 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’!! And have fun on your birthday. Hope it’s a great one!