Editorial Comment: This was written a year ago upon the suggestion of a local editor with whom I had done business who wanted me to write something about my feelings on turning 50. I somehow got her new e-mail address wrong and she never got the submission back when she was interested in running it. She said, " Oh well. Maybe we will use it when your birthday rolls around again next year." However, she retired a couple of months ago and the guy that replaced her on an interim basis never responded to the e-mails we both wrote him about the subject.
You don't have to hit me upside the head with a brick.
Sooooooo, since it is a timely subject, and since I really don't have anything else to write about and since I have a cold, here it is. I hope you enjoy it.
I have to admit that they got me good. I never saw it coming. My little brother John told me that every Friday night was Rib Night out at his country club. He invited me and my friend Joan to come eat ribs in honor of my 50th birthday. So I showed up, big dumb me, precisely at 7:30 at the Club, anticipating nothing more than free barbecueue and whiskey. I had no more taken two steps into what I had assumed would be a buffet room full of half-drunk golfers when about 25 of my closest friends jumped out from the corners of the room.. I could not have been more shocked if Martians had invaded as cameras went off around me and I struggled to regain my bearings.
I am not one that surprises easily; I confess that I am far too controlling to allow for that nonsense. I am also too suspicious-it is part of my charm-so for my three brothers to put one over on me-with the assistance of numerous of my friends and relatives says a lot. One, it means that they lie a whole lot more than I anticipated. And two, it shows that I am nowhere near as smart as I think I am. Guys that ordinarily could not be trusted with a wet match kept me none the wiser as to my fate while they traded telephone calls and e-mails behind my back for three months in planning this august occasion.
You have to understand. I wouldn't go across a county line to see me. So I am humbled that old classmates from as far away as California and Louisiana and a writer friend from Arizona gave up the time and money to do what I'm not sure that I would do for myself. I guess they wanted to see if they could induce cardiac arrest in me, which partially explained the presence in the room of a board certified cardiologist. As if that weren't enough, my cellphone went off on cue bearing calls from the other co-conspirators that could not attend. And though the photographs taken may not reveal it, as I do not have the habit of smiling when my picture is being taken, my heart was full of a happiness that I cannot describe. Like I said, they got me but good.
Oh, what a night. What a wonderful, wonderful night.
Ours is a vulgar and brutish age. We receive information about our politics and our religion through sound bytes in much the same way we learn about new cars and light beer. Everything is prepackaged and sterilized. Only during such narcissistic times could life coaches not only make a living but some of them are so successful they have opened second offices. Self-congratulation and navel-gazing is epidemic. We whine and complain about perceived slights as if we are entitled to a pain-free existence. As if we do not live in the temporal. I hate this about the present age.
But you know? Maybe we are not entitled to happiness. Or maybe we are or some of us just don't know how to go about it and have quit looking. (I am not one of those people, in case you are wondering.) The sportswriter Mike Lupica says that you deserve what you get with some people. You can also get what you do not deserve. I know that I do not deserve to have such wonderful friends, to have such a great family. I did not deserve such a fun night. I do not deserve any of this. And I thank the God who lent me both my breath and this one night.
The late journalist Marjorie Williams, who frequently wrote of her struggle with terminal cancer said in one of her essays: "Only a moral idiot could feel entitled, in the midst of life, to a complete exemption from bad fortune." I have been lucky the last 50 years. Like everybody else, I have had my ups and my downs. Like everybody else, I wish that I could have some "do-overs" here and there. I have loved and have been loved. I have hurt and have been hurt. Some times have been easier than others. I wish that I could undo lingering misunderstandings and resentment. I wish I could sit down with certain people and say, like Prufrock, "That is not what I meant at all. That is not it at all." I also know I am no different from anybody else in this regard.
But on the balance, I have absolutely no room to complain. No room whatsoever. I have my health and there's a roof over my head. I have always enjoyed steady employment and the financial security that it brings.
I do not take any of this for granted. While I may be a moral idiot, I am not a complete idiot. I have enough of my mother-who saw a bear in every window- in me to guard against that. While I am not as bad as she is, I know that things can change and that random laughing chance can rise up at any time and strike me down much as it did my father back in our backyard one cold winter day in December some 30 years ago. Random laughing chance left a widow with four sons in its wake on that day. It can happen. So while I am not as overprotective as my mother and while I may not see bears in the window I've seen enough in my 50 years to sometimes recognize the pawprints on the glass from the night before. I am not a complete idiot. I know that life is as fragile and painful as it is exquisite.
In the fullness of time, when I am bent with age-if I am spared at all- and I am sitting in a rocking chair on the porch at the old folk's home, I hope to derive comfort in the certain knowledge that I had a pretty good run all things considered. And I will seek refuge in the memory of a wonderous and holy night back in October of 2005 that was filled with such joy. Please God, permit me that much. Although I did not deserve any of it, permit me to always have that one night,in the company of all of those people that I love, and I can die a happy man.
Please. Let me keep that one night.