My AARP card should be arriving in the mail any day now. I turn 50 in December and it's not so easy to wrap my head around that concept. Fifty, no doubt, is a big number. My father-in-law was dead at 51 and my father started a 10-year odyssey towards death at age 60. From 60 to 70 he limped through life speechless from a massive stroke while also suffering from every possible infliction on his way to death. Finally, at age 70, tongue cancer got him after it ate away half his face.
Understandably, I look towards my upcoming years with a certain amount of fear and trepidation. I also look back on my first 50 years with a little more regret than I would like to admit. I worry that I may not have lived my life with the gusto and confidence of a man who truly believes you get only one chance at life. I cared to damn much about what other people thought and I did not love as freely and honestly as I should have. I also lacked the confidence to work hard at cultivating and maintaining real and authentic friendships.
Shortly after turning 49, with an unhealthy amount of panic, I decided to begin working towards one of my lifelong goals. I have always dreamed about riding my bicycle across the country. At my age, time was of the essence. On the very first day of training, only minutes from my house, I was run down by a reckless driver. The impact sent me sailing into the air. At the apex of my flight, I was struck with the worry that I would not survive the fall. I had only two thoughts at that moment. The first was: who was going to take care of my 10-year-old son? The second was: who was going to finish the renovation of my kitchen? Just as my kitchen renovation was flashing before me, I came down hard in the middle of the street. I knew immediately that my neck was broken.
As if recovering from a broken neck was not a big enough challenge, six months after my accident, I was poisoned while eating shellfish. A rare form of bacteria paralyzed my entire digestive system. I spent six days in the hospital as doctors tried to figure out what to do. Unlike my incident with the car, in which the door to the great abyss opened for a split second, my six days in the hospital, left me gazing into the abyss for far too long.
I am alive and now 50 is only weeks away. Despite Nietzsche's claim that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I am certainly weaker. My body does not move like it used to and my overall strength is deeply diminished. It is hard to shake the feeling that comes with thinking that you were almost killed. But despite being physically weaker, I have become mentally tougher. Each and every day I make a concerted effort to stay in the moment. I use Zen exercises that give me clarity of mind. I listen more intently to people. I use love to guide me through each day. For most of my first 50 years, life seemed to race by me. I would wake from sleep at times panicking that I had slept through life. Life has now slowed down for me. I am a better father and a better teacher. I think I project something positive.
As I move ahead now, the words of Jack London, one of my favorite authors, resonate deeply with me.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.