A couple weeks back I was sitting in a salon chair, cape around my neck, getting a haircut. As the stylist was buzzing the sides of my head, I watched hair slide down the cape and land on the floor. In my mind I always chuckle to myself in those moments: “Boy oh boy, the white hair is just as plentiful as the black hair.” On that day, I thought the same thing…
And then I had a “mortality moment.” More on that in a bit.
I obviously know about aging and death. It’s a fact of life. Yet as a young man – hell, even through much of my adulthood – the idea of my own death was so nebulous as to be an impossibility. I’ve never spent any amount of time contemplating the end of my life, nor have I worried about what will happen to me in the afterlife (if anything). I guess I’ve always been of the mindset that I’ll find out when I get there.
My health has been excellent to this point, and in many ways I have the spirit of my teenage self. I’ve said it in previous posts and I’ll reiterate it here: most days I feel like I should be heading to school — not work — when I roll out of bed in the morning, or that I’ve pulled one over on the salesperson when I buy some beer at the liquor store. Physically I have aged into a different person, but mentally I’m still so vital and full of life.
All of that being said, I’ve recently experienced the aforementioned “mortality moments,” a phrase I use to describe what happens when my mind casts its gaze forward and thinks about the second half of my life. Morbidly, I also contemplate my death and what it will be like. I don’t allow myself to go there for more than a few seconds (anything longer would cause madness and unnecessary worry), slamming the door on those thoughts before it has a chance to fully swing open.
I suppose it makes sense that these flashes began around the time I started losing people in my life. I lost my paternal grandpa when I was 23 years old, which was hard, but he made it to an old age and lived a full life. The first truly difficult loss was my stepmom, who died of cancer waaaaaay too young. I was at the hospital in her final days, watching her succumb to the insidious disease. It was not an easy sight to behold. I’ve also lost classmates to various forms of cancer, men and women who passed away in their thirties, leaving behind spouses and young children. A few years ago my wife’s father died suddenly at the age of 62, rocking the family to its core. But perhaps the most difficult one to accept was the passing of my maternal grandfather. He lived a long life (83 years old), but you never would have convinced me he’d die until I saw it with my own eyes. If ever there was someone who could beat death, it was my stubborn, gruff, hard-nosed, German grandpa.
Yet he didn’t. He’s gone.
So that door – the final one I’ll walk through – opens just a sliver from time to time. I don’t try catching a glimpse of what’s behind it; I’m not one of those people who wants to know how I go or how much longer I have to live. But I’d be lying if I said butterflies hadn’t started twitching in my stomach when the door cracks open, leaving me to wonder if I’ll get another 40+ years, if I’ll experience pain or go peacefully, and most of all, what will happen to the people I leave behind.
[Beckon all you want: I’m not taking the bait.]
There’s only one way I know to combat these periodic feelings, and that’s to live life to its fullest. I’ve been blessed in my first forty-one years: I’m married to a wonderful woman; I’ve experienced fatherhood with my children and stepchildren; I’m lucky enough to be employed at the same company for 19 years, working a job that I love (most days, anyway); I’ve traveled to various locations both in the U.S. and abroad; I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my (diminishing) belly; and on and on. I don’t have much to complain about, and if I started to whine, who’d want to listen after seeing how good I have it?
Even so, I still have a bucket list as long as my arm. There are still places in this world I want to experience – revisiting Germany; trekking through the United Kingdom; taking in the scenic views of Banff, Canada; and most of all, taking a couple weeks to sit on my arse and sip on fruity drinks in Saint Lucia. I want to take a kayaking trip. I want to learn how to play an instrument. I want to finish a novel I started writing in college. I want to read all of the books in my to-be-read pile, as well as all of the future books from my favorite authors. I want to see if NASA ever finds life on a different planet. I want all of these and so much more.
[This beach. Wife by my side. Drink in hand. Fourteen days of relaxation. It will happen.]
There are other things that I think are my right to experience, bucket list be damned. I want to be married to my wife for fifty years, a promise we made each other while we were dating. I want to see my kids graduate from school, choose an occupation, get married, and have kids of their own. I want to work hard for the next twenty-five years, and then experience all that retirement has to offer. I want to make my health a priority so that I am physically able to make all of these hopes and dreams come to fruition.
[I was married on August 31, 2013. We’re five years in after our upcoming anniversary, forty-five more to go at the minimum.]
I accept that the end is no longer something to be ignored, and that my time will eventually come to a close. However, I do not accept the idea that the cracked door will paralyze me with fear, preventing me from enjoying the time I have left. I embrace my future, no matter where it takes me.
Bring it on, world. I’m ready for you.
Until we meet again…