A few days ago…okay, twelve or fifteen years ago (the way time is passing it just feels like days), a colleague was in the habit of complaining about his aches and pains and the twenty extra pounds of blubber around his waist. He’d say, “It’s old age, Kev.” He was joking, of course. At that point, we hadn't yet reached what is generally accepted as middle aged and since only teenaged girls believe late thirties is old, blaming age for his aliments didn’t make much sense. I thought (perhaps judgmentally), a more likely culprit was all the time he wasted sitting on the couch watching televised sports.
Back then, I had no way of knowing the conversation was fifteen years ahead of his time. It would take me that long to understand why I found the blame game he was playing (joking or not), incomprehensible to the point of annoying.
Today, I frequently hear references to aches and pains in conversation. Hilariously, they also include references to physiotherapists, massage therapists and other assorted professionals whose vocations are entirely designed to make us feel better. You know what I mean: “I know a guy. He’s the best chiropractor I’ve ever met. Check him out!”
The conversation is less annoying than it was fifteen years ago because it’s become valid. Age has gone from an excuse to a fact. I still wouldn’t describe fifties as old, but at this point in life, a day on the ski hill no longer means it is imperative to be first in line when the chair lift starts operating. Weekend warriors don’t paddle as far as they used to, and the fastest race they’ll run is behind them. When I hear the aches and pains conversation now, I accept it. If it’s coming from people who are busy, active, doing things, I admire it…
Like when one friend tells me his back is sore from his latest mountain bike ride, but he’s heading out again because the trail is in good condition and the day is too perfect not to,
Or, the friend whose doctor told her she couldn’t play basketball any longer. She laughed and said, “Yeah, right.” She told me she would keep looking until she found a doctor who told her what she wanted to hear, but quitting basketball wasn’t an option,
Or the friend whose legs don’t recover as quickly as they used to after a leg workout, but she’s still going out for her long Sunday run.
These are good examples of what a person is referring to when he says, “Age is a state of mind.” I agree to a point. I may not imagine myself as older than I was a year ago, or ten years ago, but the aches and pains are real and if there was any doubt about the reality of my age compared to my perception, it is the other conversation that has become common-place in my fifties…the unwelcome phone call from friends, relatives, and colleagues.
“So-and-so just found out he has…” Pick a horrible disease generally associated with age.
Going back several years, back to when the couch potato spent his time complaining rather than doing, cancer came into my extended family’s life. Back then, I was buffered from the disease by thousands of miles, several decades and a generation. I “experienced” cancer through those filters. My mother watched it eat my grandmother alive from her bedside without buffers. Today, both the distance and the generation gap have disappeared. Time has shrunk from decades to years. My buffers are gone and I’m having conversations I didn’t have fifteen years ago.
Last summer, a high school friend’s mom was diagnosed with cancer. When I heard the news, I felt like I’d taken a soccer ball to the stomach.
Last month, I received a call from a guy I met in the fifth grade. Recently, his father was diagnosed with cancer. Another soccer ball to the stomach.
Last fall, my wife had to find her way to her parent’s home as quickly as possible; time was running out for her father. If the distress of the previous two conversations took my breath away, this one hurt like a hammer blow to the forehead.
These are the unwelcome conversations we could all do without. They define the age I am today. They mark time in an illustrative way, compared to the specificity of an anniversary, for example. I can’t remember where I was or what I was doing last year on my birthday. On the other hand, I remember quite clearly what I did when I heard my father-in-law’s time had come.
I now understand exactly what annoyed me about the couch potato’s comments all those years ago. It was his complete disrespect for time. Deciding to sit on the couch and watch a four-hour NASCAR race or an entire Blue Jays game, is an acceptable choice and therefore not a waste of time. Allowing an entire day to go by without choosing to do something (anything) because he couldn't be bothered making a decision, and then justifying that non-decision with excuses (the aches and pains conversation fifteen years too early), was unacceptable.
Admittedly, I write slowly but in the time between when I learned of his diagnosis and finishing this post, my friend’s father passed away, this man who was like one of my parent’s in disguise,
This man who was so much more than an authority figure,
This man I still refer to as “Mister” after forty-one years,
This man I came to know as a person with talents and interests and skills. I knew the call was coming but when it did, it reinforced something I’ve long believed, even if I couldn’t label it fifteen years ago…no matter how you measure it, time is finite. It is a commodity. It shouldn’t be wasted making weak excuses.
Thankfully, the couch potato pushed through his lazy phase. Like the mountain biker, the basketball player and the runner, he is out there exploring the world in a way that interests him, making good use of his time before he has to have another significant conversation, the one that defines old age, the one that starts with the words, “I just came from the doctor and it’s not looking good.”
Check out this Toyota commercial. It perfectly shows what living is all about.
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