I feel I need to preface this blog posting with a disclaimer: I am in no way feeling sorry for myself, or bemoaning the fact that I am about to have an operation. I don’t do that. I am a realist at heart. I am pragmatic. I know I am growing older, and I know the body has a limited shelf life for us all. As my dad was fond of saying, “that’s just the real of it.”
So no whining from me, ever. I wasn’t raised that way. You face an obstacle, you power through it, period, end of story.
The purpose then, of this posting, is to share my reflections on this thing we call life. My perspective has changed a great deal since the days, fifty-five years ago, when I sang “When I’m Sixty-Four” along with the Fab Four, and laughed at their description of getting older. I have a much different perspective about aging now than I did then.
Thanks for joining me!
What a Gift This Body Has Been
It has served me well, this body. It summited seven mountains over 12,000 feet. It hiked hundreds of miles, ran hundreds of miles, worked thousands of physical labor hours, played college sports, played recreational sports, propelled me through 26,645 days with barely a hiccup, and not once did I have a sprain, not once did I break a bone, not once did I suffer a tear or dislocation or major malfunction. The bones worked as they were designed to work, as did the muscles, the ligaments, and the organs.
The common cold? I can’t remember the last time I could make that claim. The flu? Nope! Maybe once in the last fifteen years. Seriously! I’m not making it up. Indigestion? Never had it! Acid reflux? What the hell is that? Irritable bowels? Not likely, not this body of mine, not this gift of mine.
And the weird thing is, it was impossible to predict. I was sickly as a child; almost missed an entire year of elementary school because of a variety of illnesses. But once I hit my stride, once all pistons were firing in unison, once this magnificent machine finally found its rhythm, well, it has been remarkably reliable and resilient, and for that I am incredibly grateful. I am fully aware of the fragility of life. My relatives, with their deaths, have driven home the fact that we all have an hour glass inside of us, and once that sand drains out, we will follow in the same footsteps twenty-five billion others have taken.
A Bit of a Surprise
Admittedly, and I laugh writing this, it still came as a surprise to me when ten months ago, at the then age of seventy-two, I began to experience pain in my left hip. “What the holy hell,” I thought. I don’t experience random pain. That’s for other people, not me. Just ignore it, it will go away, no big deal, shake it off, maybe you slept wrong on that side, Billy Boy, and to my complete surprise it continued to get worse.
So complete was my self-deception that when I finally did go see a doctor, after six months of discomfort, and x-rays were taken, it didn’t register in my mind what the doctor was saying about the deterioration of calcium in my hip and the need for a hip replacement. I thought he was just going to recommend stretching exercises to rebuild my hip muscles, and he was just telling me the absolute worst-case scenario if I didn’t follow his instructions.
It turned out the worst-case scenario had arrived. My body had finally experienced a hiccup.
Reflection Number One
The thing about monumental “A-HA” moments is that they can come at any time, and they can take any form. For me, this particular A-HA moment came while watching the news about a year ago. The story was about life-expectancy, and the news anchor mentioned that the average life-expectancy in the U.S. is a little over seventy-eight years. Suddenly, the comic light bulb came on over my comic head, and I thought “holy damn, if I’m average, I only have six years to live!”
And, shortly after that, I began to experience the aforementioned pain in my hip, further driving home the fact that I am not ten feet tall and bulletproof, despite my delusional beliefs, and I am going to die sooner rather than later.
It’s a real eye-opener, you know, facing your mortality, becoming fully aware that your time on Earth is rapidly declining in length, and all of those “somedays” and “tomorrows” and “future plans” are posted on a shortened calendar. If you are thirty, and reading this, you’ll most likely think I’m being morbid and completely irrational. I thought that way when I was thirty as well. But at seventy-three, those thoughts are not irrational at all, and that’s not being morbid at all; it’s simply being realistic about a topic many people do not want to talk about.
Reflection Number Two
“Live Like You Were Dying” has been among my favorite songs for quite a few years now, the message important, the melody haunting, but it does not serve as a springboard into some alter-ego for me. I have no plans on riding a bull named Fu Manchu, nor will I go skydiving anytime in this lifetime.
I have lived an outstanding life. I’ve experienced wondrous things. I have loved and I’ve been loved. No, I never made it to Europe like I wished, but I watched the sunrise from a Rocky Mountain peak. I never learned to fly a plane like I wished, but I did have the best friend a man could ever hope for in Frank Zderic. I never had a bestselling novel like I wished, but I did have an impact, as a teacher, on the lives of hundreds of my students, and my articles and books have been read by millions.
No, there will be no bull-riding for this old man, but there will be continued days and weeks and months and years, whatever time remains, being the best husband and father and friend I can be, and that’s a testimonial I can smile at.
Sweet Melancholy, but Not Sadness
I find it interesting that many people fear death. Hell, they don’t even like to talk about it. That seems totally illogical to me. There is either an afterlife after death, or there is nothingness after death. There really can’t be another option, right? And neither one seems terribly frightening to me. Mind you, I have no desire to suffer while dying. Daddy didn’t raise an idiotic masochist. But the actual death no, I do not fear it. It’s the final act of a very long-running play, and hopefully people will look back, on my play, and find it memorable and meaningful.
Again, is that morbid? I thought so at twenty; today it seems very natural to think of such things, and I guaran-damn-tee you that most, if not all, people my age think often about it.
But, and this is a huge but, pun intended, if you think I’m just going to sit back and wait for the cloaked man with a scythe to come get me, you have wildly underestimated by desire to squeeze out as much living as possible in the time remaining. I will not go quietly into the night. That just ain’t my style, thank you very much. By this time, next year, my wife, Bev, and I will be outfitting the new RV we are going to purchase. I will be having my new pickup truck serviced for its maiden voyage towing that RV. And the day she retires, on December 20th, we will set sail on the highways of this country and enjoy the hell out of the time we have remaining.
Maybe I’ll name the RV Fu Manchu! Seems fitting, you know!
Footnote: the operation was a success, the new hip is functioning perfectly, and life is good.
2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)