Inspiration for a story/reflection can come from many sources. This one came from two songs, 100 Years, by Five For Fighting, When We Were Young, by Adele, and the friendship I had with Frank Zderic, which ended with his death two years ago. I hope you find something in it which relates to you.
It goes by so quickly, the cliched blink of an eye, not so cliched when you are at the tail end of the journey. The Magical Mystery Tour of Life speeds by, step right this way, climb aboard, watch your step, now, and hang on tight, we might hit some turbulence on this fascinating journey.
I stand before you, in the seventy-third year of my life, and I am dumbfounded, in awe, and shocked that it all passed by with such unrelenting speed. Where in the hell did the time go? How did I reach this point, a point where I look back, with crystal-clear memories, on . . .
No limits! No fear! Grab life by the shorthairs and ride it into submission. The sky is the limit, Billy Boy, that’s what I heard, anything is possible, apply yourself, lay the foundation, work hard, my father said, but all I could hear was play hard, wring every ounce of enjoyment out of this gift I’d been given.
But the young rarely see life as a gift, do they? We are too busy enjoying the hell out of it to fully appreciate the countless hours playing ball, chasing girls, swimming lakes, hiking in the mountains, laughing, doing all manner of ridiculous things, drive-in movies, driving too fast, playing too fast, pushing limits we weren’t even aware existed.
We were going to conquer the world, or so we thought, college and success awaited us all, daydreams steeped in enthusiasm and unfounded confidence, unaware of the pitfalls that awaited, unaware that the universe doesn’t give a good goddamn about silly hopes and plans based on those hopes.
We were clueless, but a good clueless, for all of us need to start the journey with boundless good intentions and limitless energy, like a granite mountain before the roaring river begins to grind it down.
The grinding-down begins, but in a subtle manner. It begins, for many of us, with the job, the career, the chosen path. The job means money, money means spending, perhaps too much spending, which leads to debt, which leads to commitment to the job, and so it goes.
Room and board are no longer just words but necessities, necessities which require money, money which can only be had through more work, and suddenly those playdays are fewer, the spur-of-the-moment road trips diminish in number, those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer are shortened.
Disappointments rise, certainly not overwhelming, but in numbers previously unexpected, unforeseen. The career is unfocused, perhaps even unattainable, the doubts begin, the realization, for the very first time, that unlimited only applies in the minds of daydreaming fools, that there are limits to just about everything in life, and it is at twenty-two we begin to realize that we, too, have limits, there is only so much we are capable of doing, only so much we can master, only so much we can realistically expect out of life.
So we party-hearty, push away the negative thoughts, hold on tighter to the dreams, wait for the big break, nose to the grindstone, keep working, keep moving forward, knowing Our Day will come, it’s just around the corner, a toast, maybe two, lift our glasses to the future when our ship will surely dock at the Port of Success.
But the ship has sprung a leak and we don’t even realize it.
One date leads to two, two leads to ten, and pretty damned soon that casual fling is an “I do,” and all the responsibility which comes with those two little one-syllable words. Two words, three letters in total, but they spell commitment and they ring in in a new chapter of your life.
Marriage, perhaps a child, perhaps three, four, the need for a larger home, the need for longer hours at work, responsibilities piling up faster than the diaper pile, learning to live with someone else, learning to communicate and problem-solve and share deep thoughts, learning to share feelings, allowing oneself to be vulnerable, scary shit, man, scary shit indeed.
But thirty-three isn’t all about fright. There is newfound confidence, knowing you can provide, knowing you can answer the bell for each round of the fight, a marathoner in the greatest shape of his life, loving the spouse and loving the kids, picnics in the park, family vacations, the warmth and comfort of another human being next to you on cold nights, it’s all a balancing act at thirty-three, just cocky enough to think you’ve got it all handled, perhaps too cocky, bordering on delusional, for unknown, at thirty-three, at least for many of us, is the knowledge that life can get one hell of a lot tougher, down and dirty, a bare-knuckle prize fight which will soon test every ounce of your fortitude and determination.
The scars are many by forty-four. Some have developed scar tissue. Others break open at a slight touch. You wake up in the mornings, increasingly it seems, and you can’t find the rose-colored glasses you’ve worn for so many years. The body, once an indestructible temple, aches from unknown origins, as stones crumble along the foundation. The laughter, at times, is more forced, oftentimes used to guard against tears which arrive unbidden at the strangest of times.
Climbing the corporate ladder, or climbing any damned ladder, is more difficult, dare I say impossible, the rungs above incapable of holding your weight, so you cling, uncertainly, to the middle rungs, knowing you’ll never see the top, hoping you don’t fall below, at forty-four the realization begins to make itself known, you might be living as good as it gets, or you already lived it, and the future holds more of the same old, same old.
The kids are older, you are no longer the hero in their eyes, the luster from your red cape no longer vibrant, and the spouse is more friend than lover, wild escapades under satin sheets replaced by a peck on the cheek as you both collapse in bed, too drained and exhausted from just trying to make frayed ends meet to even consider love-making.
Mowing lawns, barbecues with neighbors, church gatherings, company parties, vacations to never-before seen locations, cramming in as much of living as possible, gathering up the memories for later years, faded photographs lest we forget, God please don’t let us forget.
You stand, straddling a line, separating the middle-aged from the elderly, and that line is more pronounced with each day, the distance between the two labels shortening with each breath as you begin to think of retirement, and a new concern enters the fray, will you be able to retire, can you afford to do so, how will you ever make it work out?
Perhaps cocktail hour begins a little earlier than it once did. Perhaps medications are now needed to propel that once-Adonis body through a routine day. The children are gone, and with them parental responsibility, and with that departure comes a new realization, that life without purpose is frightening, what in the holy hell are you going to do? Perhaps you take up a hobby. Perhaps you become involved in a cause. Or perhaps you lengthen that cocktail hour into two, or three, helping you to fall asleep in the recliner while watching reruns of “Friends” and wondering where all of yours have gone to.
The ”what-ifs” creep into your self-dissections at fifty-five, the shouldas, the couldas, and the wouldas, the Holy Trinity of self-incrimination, like that actor from long ago, “ I coulda been a contender,” if only I had done this, if only I had done that, if I could have caught a damned break along the way, a cavalcade of thoughts keeping you awake at nights, twenty years from the end game in an average lifespan, twenty years, if you are lucky, to turn the ship around, find new seas to sail, desperation now creeping into the subconscious as the grandkids play on the Big Toys and the kids share, with you, digital proof that their lives are every bit as exciting as yours once was.
Your spouse may, or may not, still be with you at fifty-five, a throw of the dice either way, fifty-fifty odds, maybe a bit worse, either divorce or death breaking asunder that which God once smiled upon, and quite frankly the thought of starting over in a relationship is terrifying at best and completely impossible at worst.
Nursing home? Assisted living? Words which were once unspeakable now enter the conversation, if not at that moment, certainly soon, and you begin to receive letters in the mail about the convenience of cremation and the wonders of Viagra. You find warmth on cold winter nights, and comfort throughout the calendar year, from your memories, better than any damned electric blanket as the blood thins and Arizona begins to sound good.
You may want to deny it, in fact you try hard to do so, but you have reached the peak and are heading down the slope. You wake up, each day, to the new normal, new aches and pains, new reasons why you shouldn’t attempt that or you shouldn’t consider this, many more minuses than plusses at sixty-six, and that’s just the stone-cold real of it. Your stamina is diminished. The natural process has made itself abundantly clear. The vibrant body of yesteryear has dents, its gears need constant lubrication, and keeping that body in outstanding running condition requires more work than you are willing, or able, to do.
Thank God you still have your mind, hopefully you do, but even your mind will conspire against you at times, silently in the night remorseful thoughts come creeping, or even sweet memories of younger years become sweet melancholy with the knowledge that it will never be the same again.
Your friends are fewer and your immediate family members dwindle, the natural process, siblings and parents most likely gone or soon to be, and the remaining friendships and family members become more important. You cling to them like flotsam after a shipwreck. They keep you afloat, keep your head above the rising tide.
The mundane becomes vibrant at sixty-six. Leaves changing colors, the bite of a North wind, a friendly smile, all become more important at sixty-six, a new appreciation for the finer nuances of life, the realization that every single day is a gift, not to be wasted but to be embraced and thoroughly enjoyed, for that is what life is all about, you realize, the friendships and loves you have experienced, the quality of the life you lived, the legacy you leave behind.
“It was just like a movie. It was just like a song. When we were young.”
Wishing you all a long and happy life!
2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)