In a few weeks that’s how old I’ll be. (That’s September 25th in case you want to be nice and send me a card or, better yet, a bottle of tequila in a timely manner.) It’s not old by most standards (unless you live in Afghanistan) nor do I think it’s old. Here’s the deal, though: I’ve never experienced an impending birthday that’s bothered or taken bites out of my psyche before like this one is doing. I’m slightly depressed and melancholy; anxious and wanting to retreat; and introspective. And I know why.
Well, maybe I know why.
I remember my dad at 45. We had a great connection as father and son and I remember times and events and the things he said to me vividly. Two years later, at 47 and a half years, he would suffer a massive heart attack while we skied at Alpine Meadows ski resort on April 1, 1984. By far, it was the second worst day of my life.
Yes, I said second.
The worst (and perhaps best) day of my life was when I cheated a death similar to my dad’s, nearly shuffling off to netherworld a month before my 34th birthday with a heart attack. The doctor’s said it was a “baby or minor” one. (Minor or baby to you, Dr. Itsnotyourheartasshat. ) Ever since then I’ve been keenly aware of my mortality. Right after my “event”, of course, my conscious awareness of death was quite intense for a year, but as time passed it became less so. But lately, it’s been almost daily. Now maybe that’s because I know of too many who are deeply sick. My mother’s cancer has returned; a former coworker, a fantastically brilliant and funny woman with 2 kids (one of them The Boy’s age, 3), just began her second battle with cancer; my boss’s wife, another young-ish woman with 2 kids, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer; and my mother-in-law, for all intents and purposes, should have dropped dead while we were on vacation with her in Grand Cayman. Instead, 10 days after returning home, she had emergency double-pass. And my sister was in a major car accident a few weeks ago.
When I look it that way, fuck, no wonder I’m mildly dour and grumpy. No wonder I want to retreat. No wonder I feel blah, disconnected, anxious, restless, etc. All these sick people, too many sick people, and I know exactly what’s going through their minds. Maybe.
At 45, I know this is the ride of life—and facing your mortality is part of the ride. If you close your eyes and ignore it, or refuse to acknowledge it, then you can’t truly appreciate the bright and thrilling parts. And of course the beautiful little things get lost as they whiz by.
The thought rumbling through my head is: Is this okay? Can I open my eyes and look during the dark part of the ride? Sure, why not. I’ve done it before. In an odd, obtuse and morbid way, I probably understand this part of the ride more so than most. For years since my dad’s death, it’s one of few things that’s made me feel superior and wiser than others; I knew about Death, firsthand. I was at the head of the line and forced to sit in the first car. I wasn’t the only, of course. Many others have to go through the same things at an early age, but I didn’t know them nor they me. As I’ve gotten older, that front car has become more populated, of course, and I’ve had to move to the back. But with 45 looming, I’m back at the front car again because I’m keenly aware of this: I know that my ride is just a little past half over.
Now, lest any of you, dear 2.5 Readers, think that I’m not living my life, focusing on Death and looking at my life pessimistically, let me say one thing to that: bullshit. I don’t need to travel to Peru and climb Machu Pichu to find enlightenment and balance; or jump out of plane; or hike a gillion miles into the backcountry then shout from a cliff “I’m living!”. Though I wouldn’t mind doing any of those things. But you know what I’d take over those? A walk down the middle of a fairway after pounding a drive; seeing my son’s smile when I pick him up in the evening; sitting out on the patio on a summer evening with my wife having dinner, or a good, vigorous walk at lunch, all of these constitute living in my book. And those little moments, those little incredible and indescribable moments have been very intense lately. (Why people are so consumed with doing big things to feel like they’re living, dumbfounds me.)
In terms of my immediate health, the positive side of my ledger is fantastically in my favor. While I inherited my dad’s familial hyperlipedemia, I have the means and medicine to combat and control it that he did not. And, well, I’m kicking its ass. My numbers rock. (I could stand to lose 15-20 pounds, though.) I get nuclear stress tests every other year (probably more like every year now). I go to my lipid specialist every 3-4 months to get my cholesterol and other numbers checked. I go to my cardiologist every 6 months and he calls me his “most boring patient”—a title I happily don.
I know all this, yet there’s one thing that remains.
I wonder what God is trying to teach or show me. My lease was renewed 11 years ago because He was trying to teach and show me something then: the grace, peace and light of His love. What’s he trying to show me now? Maybe the same thing? I can’t honestly say at the moment. I’m going to keep listening, of course. But right now, there are so many words and thoughts stampeding through my head that I can’t corral them myself, much less articulate them to you, dear 2.5 Readers. I apologize for that. But God’s pokey in his teachings sometime.
Finally, I’m really glad my friend Tae-Sik, a recent heart attach victim himself, is coming out for a visit during the weekend of my birthday. We’ll play some golf at Chambers Bay and Druids Glen, go out to some nice dinners with my beautiful wife and watch a little football. And you know what? That sounds like a pretty damn good 45th birthday to me.
Did this just turn into a life blog? Fuck me, it better not, or I may just have to go and step in front of a bus.