He leaned in close so only the two of us could hear and said, “God loves you.” “I know He does,” I replied to the surgeon. “No, I mean He REALLY loves you!” the surgeon insisted. “After seeing what we just had to fix, I don’t know why you didn’t have a major coronary … but you didn’t, so He must love you a lot!” That got my attention. I mean, it REALLY got my attention. Up until then, I had taken to celebrating various anniversaries of my 29th birthday. The anniversary before my doctor’s chilling observation was my 19th and final such celebration.
People are funny about age. When they’re under 21, they count the half year: “He’s 1-1/2.” “I’m 16-1/2.” Between 21 and roughly 75, whatever the whole number indicates is usually offered at face value: “I’m 51.” After that, it’s back to emphasizing the half year: “I’m 83-1/2.” How someone treats his own birthday is a personal matter. How someone else treats it can be a horse of a different stripe.
High on my list of irritants is the way in which some well-meaning yahoo hangs a number on you, when he decides you’re moorings have come loose and you’re drifting so far from shore that he simply must announce to the world: “He’s 97-1/2 years YOUNG!” or even worse, addresses you as “Young fellow.” These last two are the blood pressure boosting parents of all insults to a mature person who has devoured huge chunks of life, and earned at least a modicum of respect for enduring the experience. It may come as a shock to many young whippersnappers who have spent far too much time sitting around snapping their young whippers … but old people know that they’re old! Believe me, they actually do.
During that 21 to 75 period, I see most people regarding birthdays as a necessary inconvenience, sometimes to the point of actual rejection … like the silliness of celebrating birthday anniversaries instead of coming clean on the total. A couple of my favorite denial clichés are, “Oh, it’s just a number,” or “You’re as young as you feel.” Heck, some days I feel about a hundred seventy-five! Does that mean I’m walking in Moses’ footprints? It’s amazing how fast birthday-bashing can come to a screeching, grinding halt once you’ve stood eye-to-eye with your own mortality.
Kids are bulletproof, indestructible and even immortal. They’re never going to get old and prune up like those “L” shaped relics they see chugging along, clutching their walkers or canes. Sadly, some of them don’t. The concept of disease is an abstract to a majority of young people … and death is something that only knocks on the other guy’s door. Maybe that’s why it’s mostly the young who go off to war.
When the team manager moved me from second base to first, I knew I had lost a step. Nobody had to tell me I wasn’t moving to my left fast enough to stop some of those grounders anymore. At the tender age of 34, when I allowed my wife [in another life] to convince me to stop playing ball altogether, I realized I probably lost more than just a step. That was about the time I formulated my “Nature’s Cruelest Joke” philosophy, having to do with a 20 year old kid being trapped in a 200,000 mile body … only back then, as it turned out, there were only about 75,000 miles on it.
My good friend Bill never fails to send me a greeting every January 29th wishing me a “Happy Born Day.” I like the gentle sound of that wish … and it offers those still in denial a little wiggle room. As for me? Ever since Dr. Wang’s attention-getting surgical suite pronouncement my attitude has become, “Lord, bring me as many of these things as you can.” I have all of eternity to enjoy eternity and still too much I want to do right here!
Listen to Bananas Crackers and Nuts Podcast. Find Links under “Recent Podcasts”… and more shows on my Podcast Page.