Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Big Five-Oh

Well, today’s the day. The Big Five-Oh. A lot of things happen in 18,264 days, and I like to think I’ve learned something from them. That doesn’t mean I have. You be the judge; I’m not as impartial as I should be.

Several things stick out. The first memory I can positively situate in place and time is sitting in the back seat of the family car driving up the hill toward our new house on October 13, 1960, listening to Jim Woods describe Bill Mazeroski’s home run to win the World Series. That a baseball game is my earliest memory probably says a lot about how some things have worked out since then.

I was in Mrs. Trulson’s third grade class on November 22, 1963, when I learned that President Kennedy had been killed. I wasn’t sure what the big deal was, but by the end of the weekend I knew something major had happened.

On July 20, 1969, I sat cross-legged on our living room floor and watched Neil Armstrong take a small step that everyone remembers everything about, except how to do it again. A different living room in Norwood, Massachusetts held me on January 28, 1986. Within a year I sat in a car and listened to Richard Feynman describe how O-rings lose their resiliency in cold and knew I would never feel the same way about NASA again.

A nurse said, “Would you like to see your daughter?” and I peeked over the curtain separating my wife from her Caesarian incision and saw the Sole Heir for the first time. On March 1, 1991, I became a better son, and understood that nothing was as simple, or as easy, as we’d like it to be.

Two strangers in a San Diego elevator looked at me like I had no clue about life in general after my perky morning greeting, and told me there was something different about September 11, 2001.

I stood with a hand resting on my dining room table on April 22, 2003 when Bill Ray’s son told me his father had died. Not being a surprise didn’t make it any easier to take.

Graduations, weddings, jobs, all have strong memories. The specifics have a tendency to blur, mixing in the Cuisinart of experience to create lessons you hope to get something worthwhile out of. Season with some common sense and a healthy bullshit detector, and you get the Top Ten Things I Think I Know at Fifty. (Anyone worthy of reaching fifty should know you don’t know you know anything.)

In no particular order:
· Intelligence without introspection is like sex without orgasm. It’s nice, and it’s better than not having any, but what’s the point?
· If the worth of a man is measured by the friends he keeps, then Bill Gates has a ways to go to catch me. That doesn’t mean specific friends should be kept at all costs. People are your friends through their actions, not their words. You have not lost a friend if you cut loose someone who misuses your friendship; he has.
· I make every effort to treat people as they would like to be treated. I pay everyone I meet the compliment of assuming the same about them. This is why some think I am an SOB.
· My favorite age for The Sole Heir is whatever age she is when you ask me.
· There is a great difference between being a good guy and being a good man. Just because my brother makes it look easy doesn’t mean it is.
· It is unconscionable that any child should go sick or hungry in a nation wealthy enough to spend over a trillion dollars to redraw org charts and call it Homeland Security. Security is built from within, not enforced through edict.
· The primary difference between most politicians and most whores is wardrobe, as well as when, how, and what it costs for them to show you what’s under it.
· Humans as a species are neither inherently good or bad. Americans are not nearly as good as we like to think we are relative to the rest of the world, even France.
· Those who proclaim their Christianity too vocally seem to want New Testament tolerance and forgiveness for themselves and their friends, Old Testament fire and brimstone for everyone else, choosing their own standards for casting the first stone. Christianity does not own the franchise on hypocrisy; it does employ many of the store managers.
· Life is too short to hold grudges. It’s way too short to tolerate injustice.

Any reasonable fifty year-old must assume most of the sand has run out of the hourglass. The trick is to savor every grain as it falls through the neck. The good years are always with us, if we keep realistically adjusting our definition of good to mesh with what’s important. In the timeless words of Senator John Blutarsky, “Nothing’s over until we say it is.” I can’t even hear the fat lady singing yet. That may be because my hearing’s no better than my eyesight or my feet. I prefer to think it’s because there’s no better place for me to go just yet, and, at the rate things are going, there won’t be for quite a while. Things are fine in the place I’m at now.


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday and congratulations on the milestone. I myself crossed the Big Four-Oh last year. It was a hellish year in KC and I probably didn’t spend enough time reflecting on it. I hope to get that opportunity in 2006 but this year is shaping up to be bad as well.

I want to thank you for your entries here. I enjoy reading them.

Ask Elizabeth for my email and add me to your humorous mail list.

Happy Birthday.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, could be worse...memories of big brothers stealing your barbies to make melted plastic burgers is obviously not a memory you enjoy. You might just make it through this jungle anyway. Just remember; always share your toys, listen only to songs you like-no waiting for one to be over to see what's next, go ahead and change the station right away....if a book really is bad, put it down and read another, really, the sky won't fall. Say plenty of bad words because, actually, there's plenty of reasons to growl, scream, and be angry at the forces that control the stuff we can't even hope to touch. Continue saying nice things to strangers, it feels like a hug to you and them, and it lasts longer than the flavor of most gum, candy, even m & m's. Eat blueberry pie, pumpkin pie, and apple pie, in July...they're not just for holidays. Watch, hear, listen, and interact with an event in your child's life, they are the most definitive example of grace and beauty you'll ever have the privilege of experiencing. Watch a sunset and applaud if it rocks...Jay Leno gets applause everyday and he's rather annoying, so hell, applaud if you see someone stop at a yellow light. Do something today that you would applaud if you saw someone else do it. And remember, fifty ain't nothin...you have a bit more wisdom than you did when you were young, so just combine that with a bit of compassion, expressive intent and, hell, let it loose...gaurenteed, no one will laugh...although they may smile. Jiggle, juggle, laugh, cry, feel the dance that belongs only to you...

Anonymous said...

Also, don't ever take anything or anyone for granted. Put yourself in their shoes. Try to feel what they feel. Empathy is not sympathy. Hold tight to the ones you love, and the ones who love you. Just because you want it to be, doesn't mean it is. Live life for yourself first.

Don't be a slave to propriety, or fearful of commitment. You're a big boy now. Make your own choices, and set an example about how to live and love with hope.

Happy Birthday.