Although this blog post will run sometime later, I write this post on my birthday, February 24, 2013.
February 24, ’68. The day I was born. That’s 1968, not 1868, wiseguys.
Halfway to a right angle, I figure. At 45°, I am halfway between upright and flatlined.
At 45°, the pinheads working in the dark recesses of the insurance companies (I think they are technically dubbed “actuaries”) have determined that my life is more than half over. A crushing thought, really. I have reached the age range when many folks go nuts; either trading in spouses for younger models, buying flashy sports cars, abandoning or finding religion, or taking on any number of silly, self-destructive behaviors in the name of clinging desperately to their youth (Botox comes to mind).
To be honest, I’ve been struggling with mortality issues for a couple years, now. Looking backwards provides no help. Although some memories are quite distant and arrive through grainy, rust-toned filters in my mind, there are some ancient memories that spring to mind with clarity. I can focus with ferocious acuity on happy memories, remembering the tastes, the aromas, the sounds that filled the room, and the feelings I felt. Those happy memories serve to haunt when I consider how close they feel from so far away, and how this portends a relative dearth of days to come.
Pink Floyd, a rock band that has tracked the arc of my life thus far, captured my 45° emotion superbly in its chillingly beautiful and famous song, Time (set to a cacophony of clanging grandfather clocks ushering in a long prologue just pounding with ominous, brooding bass tones):
Ticking away, the moments that make up a dull day.
Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun.
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking,
racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older;
shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled lines.
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.
The time is gone, the song is over; thought I’d something more to say…
Home, home again. I like to be here when I can.
And when I come home hobbled and tired,
it’s good to warm my bones beside the fire.
Far away across the field, the tolling of the iron bell
calls the faithful to their knees
to hear the softly spoken magic spell…
It is amazing how my response to this song has evolved as I have aged. It morphed from a cool tune about other people when heard by my young ears, into the moribund harbinger of my fate when I listen now. In fact, it practically knocked me off my feet when I heard this song recently and for the first time, Time was about me. Suddenly the words and the music took on new meaning, spurring an anxious restlessness to…do…something…I don’t know what (There is a word in Yiddish that captures the emotion. Shpilchas is the feeling of crawling out of your skin, wanting or needing to do something, but not knowing what it is that you want or need to do.).
But then, the dram is also half full, right? I can sit here, transfixed by the fear of an impending mortality that in all probability is far enough off, or I can take stock of where I am and what I have left to contribute. Ironically, those smart fellers in the back rooms of the insurance companies (I think they are technically dubbed “actuaries” – f/k/a “pinheads”) have calculated that the longer you live, the longer your lifespan is likely to be. Those who make it to 65 are statistically likely to live beyond the typical mortality age. See? There’s a milestone to shoot for!
So, to take stock: I am truly blessed. I married well and have a beautiful family that drives me crazy but I love ‘em! I survived all the childhood illnesses and diseases and about 1,000 close calls with stupid behaviors that could have gotten me killed or worse. Yet, I also took opportunities to do some incredible, memorable things that were formative to my development. I made it through 19 years of (formal) education, and I have a really neat day job where I get to make important decisions and have a real impact on shaping policy. I am involved and active in my town, where I also get to shape policy. By all measures, I have summited Abe Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. And, now on top, I have a terrific outlet for the “Actualization” step at the pinnacle of the Heirarchy: helping to build a whisky business. I have the ability to leave a legacy in my children, in my work, and in one of my passions. What could be better than all that?
At 45 my body doesn’t quite do what my mind thinks it can anymore. It’s harder to focus while reading, it’s harder to lose weight, and I’m growing a bit grey. But my constant back pain is a tribute to my youth, spent well and lived fully. My grey hairs are a tribute to my family and all of the delicious entanglements, spats and loving moments that remind me I’m very much alive. My waning eyesight is, well, just crappy vision, I’m afraid, but that’s okay, too. I’m halfway to a right angle, and that all right (and alright) by me. As I sit and warm my bones beside the fire on this birthday, halfway between standing tall and pushing daisies, I will take a celebratory dram of SCN whisky and ruminate about the possibilities. I am potential kinetic energy and there is much to accomplish.
L’chaim & Slainte.