My eyes slowly opened, and all I was sure of was that I was in a hospital bed. I couldn’t picture the figure that was hovering over my bed, but I could hear his words clearly and was conscious enough to respond. “I am alive?” I asked the man trepidly. “You’re a very lucky young man, you ran a flashing red light and were T-boned on the driver’s side. “I have seen what little remains of your car.” A couple of days later I was told I by someone who had attending the same reception that I had consumed close to 20 vodka and tonics in the course of an afternoon. I don’t recall the accident, and worse, I didn’t know the name of the person who was in my passenger seat. It was the summer of 1983 and I had been spending time in Allentown Pennsylvania to attend the wedding of college friends. To this day I have not heard from my front seat companion. I am positive I arrived at the wedding alone. All I can can take solace from is the people at the hospital telling me she was not injured in the crash. The man standing over me continued his uninvited distracting conversation. “Rich you’re 23 years old, it is a miracle that you survived this accident. If you don’t change your behavior immediately you won’t be on this earth much longer.” Still groggy and my eyes filled with tears from hearing these true painful words, I looked up at the tall man and got emotional for the first time in my young life. “I’m sorry. I want to live, I want a family someday. I’ve got things that I was put on this earth to get done. I promise I will attempt to live a long life, maybe even make it to sixty. After that all bets are off,” I added for humor sake. The man was still in the room and his voice was sharp . “Time will tell Rich, it always does.”
Whoever originally said “age is just a number” was full of crap. The people who travel in my circles, and repeat that line, (it happens often) are delusional. Your age correlates to who you are, what you look like, and most accurately it indicates how much life experience you have, or don’t have. I don’t know much, but I know what a young person looks like, and I know what an old person looks like. More so, I don’t forget what it felt like to be young and strong, and to feel invincible. Recently I am getting schooled in what it is like to have survived the wounds of six decades. At the end of the month I will turn Sixty. There, I said it to myself, I wrote it, and if there is a Lord he knows I am kicking and screaming trying to accept it. The acceptance part is my biggest challenge. When you accept you no longer can perform as good as you did in your younger days it could easily be interpreted as giving up. Acceptance has always been associated with quitting by me. There is such a fine line in my brain between acceptance and giving up. The accumulation of years has weakened my ambition and my body routinely does not respond to simple requests such as standing up, or getting up. I am far less supple, my eye sight, hearing, and libido are to say the least, diminished. Is it time to surrender to my age? Surrendering is, after all, a step to acceptance. Up until about six months ago I enjoyed viewing myself as the real life Benjamin Button. As years were moving on I was getting stronger, bigger, better looking, and wiser. I believed it was possible I was aging backwards. (lol) Was it possible I was the second coming of Dick Clark? This past year (2019) those fantastical hopes have been put to rest. The curtain has been pulled back and behind it is nothing more than a sixty year old man moving around a bunch of levers pretending to be a wizard.
What does turning sixty mean to me? It means I have outlived 30% of the people in the United States who were also born in 1960. It means I can start taking money out of my 401K and IRA plans without penalty. It means I can can start collecting social security in two years. For me turning sixty, means I have to get a grip on how I can find a way to a happy and productive life for the next 25 years. I need to find the grace and humility it takes it get out of the way for the next generation. Can I find serenity in the decisions I have made to get myself to today however good or bad I judge that to be? I am an extremely introspective person, and this latest milestone is impacting me far more than any that came prior. The practicality of turning sixty, combined with the way my body is reacting to it, has left me faced with the biggest crossroad of my life. A friend of mine lifted me up recently by saying how blessed I am to have gotten where I have while maintaining my health and successfully raising an accomplished family. She is correct, and knowing my daughters’ formal education is bought and paid for and they are living independent lives will always be my favorite accomplishment. I am thankful for the good fortunes bestowed upon me, but I am always looking forward, and for the first time I am frightened of what I see. I’m spending far too much thinking about the things I can’t do anymore instead of accepting that there is a price we pay for arriving at this pedestal. I am at a different doctor everyday: Gastroenterologist, Dermatologist, Orthopedic Surgeon, blood work, Cardiologist, Dentist. Lately, I struggle pushing myself out of bed both mentally and physically.
How can I accept the passing away of that fearless young man who appeared to keep time on his side? How can I accept the simple human conditions of aging? Not only am I physically hindered, but I am experiencing the downward turn of confidence that goes along with this age that is supposedly just a number. I am consumed trying to decipher how I want to spend the rest of my life as the sand continues to pour down the hour glass. I do feel very fortunate for the life I have had so far but it doesn’t prevent me from going back to the dreams I dreamed in my adolescence. I spent most of my youth around golf courses, gambling, and playing golf with older men for money.
I have always been a keen observer of humans and how they react to their personal plights. In my travels around the Country Club circuit I saw a bunch of men my age now who were mostly content with their lives. They ate and drank too much, they often lied, and they mostly disrespected women. Many times in those days I whispered to myself “I will be different.” I was resolute to stay forever young, and despite my commitment I wasn’t as determined about making it to 2020. “Rich in 2020 you’ll be sixty, I won’t be around to see it, but I can’t picture you handling the aging process,” said a golfing pal of mine named Francis “Pint” Rohan. His words of acumen usually arrived after two VO Manhattans and several Budweisers. Pinto was around the age I am now, to me, back in the 80’s, he looked like an old retired IBMer. Pinto talked a big game but when the clock approached midnight Mrs. Rohan could be seen driving down the golf course road to drag her little “Pinto” out of the poker game. Those were days before I was married and I succinctly remember saying to myself . “Rich, if you make it to sixty don’t become a caricature of yourself. Do not allow the day to come where you need to be, or allow yourself to be, babysat.”
It has been said to me many times that turning sixty should be a time to look back with gratitude. That is easy, I am grateful for the hand I have had a chance to play in this life. Being a former educator I enjoy giving out grades even to myself. For my first sixty years I give myself a solid B. My shortcomings and failures in this life have had a lot to with living for the day, while at the same time planning for the future. I find this dichotomy to be one of the most challenging balances to negotiate. I want to live everyday fast while understanding there will eventually be consequences as you keep moving down the road. The fact turned out to be I made it to sixty relatively healthy, my family is in tact, and I have a few shekels in the bank. My wife tells me “Rich it is time to pay the piper.” To me directly she explains it clearer: “Rich, your deal with the devil has expired.” Reality tells us the human body is built very much like an automobile. After a certain amount of mileage you can count on the machinery breaking down. I have spent a lifetime saying to myself that preparation is a top priority to my personal journey. Yet, preparing to be a graceful old man takes a special mentality that I am not ready to commit to, and possibly never will. Sixty years will have passed since I fell out of my mother’s womb on January 31, 1960. I can only hope this year the occasion will quietly pass and I am left alone to contemplate how I am going to write the final chapter. When I am out to dinner with my 85 year old dad we have deep conversations about how we have lived our lives and what the purpose to it all is. He usually brings everything back to family, and while I agree with him, I tell him, that even now I need to keep finding meaning in my own life as an individual. Without personal challenges, goals, and new adventures life is not worth living.
After all the blurred days and years that have past, the Thanksgivings , the birthdays, the Christmases, the weddings and the funerals, I’ve come to this moment. Certainly a milestone that in many ways I do see as a celebratory occasion. So after years of playing with life as if it is a foolish game I am preparing myself to play one more big game. I am not done, just the opposite. I am going back to the full basics which includes goals, plans and accountability. Three dreaded words to an independent free spirit. I am committed to fixing my body, redefining my ambitions, growing by business opportunities, and continuing to write. I am self aware enough to realize stagnation is not an option for me. I must keep growing, working, improving, forgiving, and evolving. I have discovered in life that if you are committed to those things great results will occur. It is true I am facing the consequences of a youth that left no wines untasted. My past strategies relied on good looks, personality, and youth, now I must turn to wisdom and substance. That vodka induced car accident was nearly four decades ago. I made a promise to a man standing over my hospital bed that night that I have thought about often over the years. With lots of self determination and some luck I was able keep my promise. I am sixty and although there are many empty spaces that have been created with the passing of the years I am standing strong and ready for one last run. Everyday I call the man who was standing over me that long ago night in the hospital room in Allentown Pennsylvania. “Hey Dad remember what I said to you that night I was in the accident?” My dad, who can’t remember what he had for lunch responded, “not really.” “I promised you I would use that night to motivate myself to work hard to survive and live a productive life, maybe make it all the way to sixty.” he gave a little chuckle. “I’m proud of you Rich and I have a feeling that you’ll never have enough.”