On Wednesday I’ll be celebrating my 70th birthday. Goodness me, I’m old now.
I have accepted with grace all previous birthdays. I took bows for my 60th and even wrote a countdown to that day on this blog. Hell, 60 wasn’t even retirement age, I wasn’t even a senior citizen yet. Now I’m a goddamned old man. Worse than that I’ve crept — run? galloped? hopped? — a lot closer to the end of my time here. How much longer do I have? Given that I live in the United States I could be gunned down tomorrow, if not later tonight (thanks NRA). Cars careen onto sidewalks, trees fall on pedestrians, sudden earthquakes send buildings tumbling down on passersby, alien invaders zap civilians with killer rays (okay that last one is a bit of a long shot). The point is there are zero guarantees as to how long we’re going to stick around. I had two of my healthier friends die of pancreatic cancer, not to mention a couple of students who weren’t even 21 when they died from other forms of cancer. On the plus side I’m healthy. I workout regularly, walk a lot in between and maintain a healthy diet. I’ve had nicks and bruises and colds and the flu but nothing serious in my first seven decades. My father lived a healthy 91 years before the toll of a freak fall claimed him a year later. My mother was 81 when she died which is remarkable given that she was mentally ill, smoked and had a mostly poor diet. My grandmothers stuck around for long lives but I’ve already far outlived both grandfathers. For that matter I’ve outlived one helluva lot of famous people. Just for starters: Jack Kerouac, John and Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Adolph Hitler and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jackson, James Dean, Amelia Earnhardt (presumably), Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Billie Holliday, Napoleon and Sylvia Plath. The list, as they say, goes on.
I just googled “what percent of people live to be 70” and the first answer I saw was 43 which is a ten point increase over the beginning of this century. So I’m in the minority (if I make it to Wednesday). Nice accomplishment but let’s shoot for more.
Seventy years. Do you realize how many times I’ve urinated? (Speaking of which, try counting the number of different places that you’ve peed, it’s impossible, there’s a lot). I guess no one really wants to contemplate how many times anyone else has taken a whizz. Jesus, how many tacos have I eaten? How many apples? How many gallons of water have I drank? Why aren’t there statistics on these kind of things that are readily available to us? Maybe in the future. What was the coldest day I’ve ever experienced? What was the hottest? How many different students have I taught? How many teachers have I had? How many sports events have I been to? Dear god that would be a very large number indeed. Basketball games alone. How about movies? How many have I seen? Which have I seen the most? I could name a score or more that I’ve watched over a dozen times like It’s A Wonderful Life, Duck Soup, Manhattan, Goodfellas, Christmas in Connecticut, Casablanca and more. How many hours have I spent staring at the TV (while it was on)? How many of those hours were wasted like when I watched Hogan’s Heroes re-runs when I was 18 years old and how many of those hours were well-spent like when I’ve watched Breaking Bad or Monty Python’s Flying Circus? How many books have I read? (I’ve written five.) How many books have I started but never finished? How much time have I spent “on” a computer and how much of that time has been wasted and how much productive? How many miles have I walked? How many women have I — maybe I won’t go there in this post, besides I know that number. How many times have I stubbed my toe? How many airline miles have I flown? How many colds have I had? How much snot have I blown out of my nose? (Sorry about that one.) What’s the closes I came to dying? What famous person did I walk by but not notice? What famous person did I walk by before they were famous? What’s the closest I’ve been to a murder? How many children do I have? Wait, I know that one…two. I also know that I’ve only been married once and since I got it right that number can be etched in stone. How many hours of music have I listened to? How many different pairs of shoes have I owned? How much money have I spent? And how about a breakdown of how that money was spent. I can’t imagine how much I’ve spent on housing, clothes, restaurant tabs, booze when I was drinking, books, movies, sports events, high end call girls (the answer that one is zero). How many people (women, generally, I presume) have secretly loved me? How many people have hated me? (Besides school administrators.) How many of my former students remember me fondly?
Bigger question: has it been worth it? Simple answer: God yes. Despite suffering from occasional depression being alive has been great fun. I had a marvelous time throughout my twenties and loved being a new father and for that matter an old one. Teaching has not been without its horrors but for the most part it’s great fun and I’m told I’m good enough at it. I’ve seen great athletes, great games, great teams, great moments. I’ve written some insightful, entertaining pieces and at least one book that a lot of people have enjoyed. I’ve enjoyed spending the last 39 years with the love of my life. Talk about luck! My children have made me enormously proud. I got to play sports and coach. I had some unforgettable moments in both roles including scoring the winning goal in my soccer team’s California state championship victory when I was 16. I’ve also met some truly interesting, funny, thoughtful, brilliant, unique people. It’s been a great ride. This despite the fact that I’ve made some horrible blunders and terrible decisions and done some incredibly stupid things. I have a lot to regret but so much more to celebrate.
I constantly fret about the inevitability and finality of death but know that it’s better to enjoy the one thing we have for sure: now.
Now is okay. I’m doing fine. No need to rue the past nor worry about about the future. Not when there’s the present to enjoy. Not an original idea, I know, but worth remembering. Think I’ll do that.