Friday, April 8, 2011

Hello 40. What took you so long?

I turn 40 next week. I remember being in high school and having friends whose parents turned 40. It seemed so damn old. My life hasn't exactly been text book in terms of a typical life progression. But then I don't think I am too typical.

I was still in undergrad when I turned 30. I was living in Austin, TX. I didn't mind turning 30. I was in a band playing original music. I was in good physical shape. I was surrounded by good people. I was able to do things I enjoyed. At 30, I hadn't even decided to go to law school yet.

It's 10 years later. I am 10 years older. But fundamentally not much has changed. I am again in a band playing original music. And it's the first such band since that band in Austin. I am still in good physical shape. Arguably better than 10 years ago. Again, I am surrounded by good people. I am still fortunate to do things I enjoy. I am pretty basic though.

At 30 I had stress. At 40 I have stress. It's a different stress but it affects me the same way. And I handle it the same way. It would appear that if your life is 100% tranquil, you might not be doing much. If you worry about nothing, you care about nothing.

In the last 20 or so years, 40 year olds have changed. My high school friend's parents seemed to be pretty boring. About the only thing any of them seemed to do for recreation was play cards. How many of them ran marathons? None. How many of them wrote music or played an instrument? None. How many went to rock concerts? Maybe one or two but it would have been to see Cat Stevens or someone like him.

I am not trying to convey that I am some super cool dude that deserves a magazine cover. I doubt my daughter thinks I am cool. Some of her friends do, however. The point I am making is that the times have changed. It's now ok to do cool things at 40, 50, 60, 70, or hell even 80.

There could be something in my blood, however. A few years back, my 83 year old Grandpa Lou went golfing one morning. He had been a golfer since way before I was born. All of my life I identified my Grandpa Lou with two things: gin martinis and golf. It was a warm early September morning. He had recently become unable to walk 18 holes at a pace the game demands. He had reluctantly started riding golf carts in his late 70's.

Grandpa Lou was never a great golfer. He was average. A good day on the course found his score somewhere in the mid 80's. But, he loved the game. It was his passion. He read golf magazines. Golf books. He wore golf clothes. And he watched it on TV. He was a golfer. As he aged, his scores kept getting higher and higher. He could no longer hit the ball as far or as accurately as he once did. By the time he was in his 80's, his scores gradually rose to the upper 90's.

But on that September morning, he shot extremely well and landed back in the mid 80's. It was an awesome round. Afterwards he went to the clubhouse and drank a couple of beers with his golfing buddies. This was as much a part of a round of golf as hitting of the golfball. Sometime in the early afternoon he grabbed his clubs and headed to the parking lot. He changed out of his golf shoes and headed home.

Upon arriving at home he poured himself a gin martini. He turned on his computer to check his email. Yes, he was 83 and had an email account. I remember his username clearly. It was: As his computer was booting up he sat down in the chair right in front of it. Then he lit a cigar.

And then he died. Just like that. He was gone.

The next morning when I got the call from my father I was stunned. Grandpa Lou was healthy. I never knew the man to be sick. He had rotator cuff surgery back in the early 80's but that was it. It wasn't until his wake that we learned of his round of golf the day he died. The other 3 men from his foursome showed up. And each one of them, separately, told us about it.

This side of my family is extremely small. My father has one brother who has two sons. I am an only child. I have one child. So there were only 6 of us for whom to give condolences. I don't know how many people showed up. It had to have been close to 200. My cousin put together a picture collage that included pictures from Grandpa's childhood, though high school, through the Navy in WWII, into early adulthood, then as a father, then as a grandfather, and finally as a great-grandfather.

The next morning was his Catholic funeral. The attendance was much, much smaller. I gave a speech that I cried through much as I am crying right now writing this. Though we were once quite close, we had grown apart the last 5 years of his life. Now he had died before I could tell him how much he meant to me.

The point of this very personal story is that age is nothing more than a measure of time. Grandpa Lou never seemed like an old man to me. He just didn't. He took care of himself. He did things he enjoyed. And he had a passion he carried with him until the second his heart stopped and the last breath left his body.

He was also into younger women...but I'll leave that one alone. Oh...maybe just one little nugget...he had a 20 something girlfriend when he was in his early 70's. And don't think he was some sugar daddy or something. He wasn't wealthy. He could just keep up. And had the maturity and class of a man who had lived a few years. He didn't dress like an old man. He didn't smell like an old man, either. It was my grandfather of all people that turned me onto the cologne Eternity.

My Grandpa was an extremely handsome man that aged well. There is also no way on Earth he ever felt he was old. Impossible. I doubt he feared much. Even getting older. And why? Not much had changed. He never once said "oh I am too old to do that". That wasn't him.

When I sat down to write this, I had no plans to include a story about my late grandfather. I am serious. I am just as surprised that I just wrote this as you might be to have just read it. But I find myself incredibly similar to the man. And when I go, when it's my time, I want to check out in the same manner.

I want to do something I've loved doing most of my life one last time and then BAM, lights out. I sure as hell don't want to rot somewhere being slowly consumed by illness and disease. To me, that's breathing, not living.

So whether it's going for an hour run or maybe playing loud rock music on a guitar or watching a sunset on a beach or seeing my daughter smile, I'll be ready to go.

All I ask is that Dark Side of the Moon be played in its entirety at my wake. And a guitar pick be placed in my right hand. Oh, I also want to be buried in running shoes. I would also like my ashes throw into a brisk mountain wind. Then I'll rest. Then my circle of life will be complete.

But until then, I have so much more to do. I am barely getting started. So hello 40. Bring on 40 more.

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