Today marks my 69th birthday. I don’t mention this to encourage the perfunctory birthday wishes, rather to talk a bit about the deeper meaning of birthdays, at least from my perspective. Birthdays, as you age, serve to remind us of good and bad fortune, as well as provide a kind of yardstick in life. At my age, the raucous parties of years past, way past actually, are nothing more than memories of a time when time really didn’t matter. Today’s occasion is a time of quiet reflection on the seriousness of time and mostly good fortune. Let’s have a look.
The photograph accompanying this piece is of a white coffee cup given to me by Sharon, my wife and a lady of extraordinary patience and uncanny perception. On the cup you see five Labrador Retrievers, with their names inscribed beneath them. There is Truman, Abe, Zeke, Micah and the current household CEO, Tazm. They are sitting easy, staring out across their favorite environment, water, thinking things that are known only to the minds of devoted retrievers. Four of these guys are now a part of the next life, leaving Tazm (named after the first four using the first letter of their names) to bring peace to the Johnson household. The cup is a priceless reminder that for dogs, birthdays are a very big deal indeed, as the Master has seen fit to seriously limit the number of these occasions on earth. I chose the late Charles Krauthammer’s last book, “The Point Of It All” to elevate the cup for the picture. The book seems particularly relevant to the point at hand. At some point, known only to God, I hope to spend time with these pups again…
Today’s birthday finds me incapable of accomplishing so many things taken for granted in the days when birthdays were not important. I spend more time with specialists than I would like to, attempting to preserve the function of arthritic hands and feet, with a grouchy back thrown in for good measure. The decline is palpable, easily measured over the course of this past year. A quick review of the impact of aging, just one year, reveals that I am without a bass-boat for the first time in many years, have suspended my flying career at least temporarily, and no longer have the urge to trample up and down the hills and fields in pursuit of deer and other game. My feet complain after a modest gym workout, much less working a climbing stand up a tall, straight oak on a hillside. Am I complaining? Nope, not at all. Instead of challenging physical feats, I am now enjoying America from the comfort of a RV, stopping in various previously unexplored places to dive into the local custom and culinary scene. Our adventures have shown me there is no need for dominance in a relationship, instead I have finally entered into a sort of partnership with Sharon in which decisions and plans are the result of true collusion. It is important to note that Sharon is a master of manipulation, allowing me the satisfaction of thinking that I am making decisions that she has carefully orchestrated beforehand. Simply put, she is smarter and thinks much quicker than I these days and is critical to my existence as time wears on. In addition, she does most of my remembering for me.
This birthday brings the jolting reality that I continue to lose friends and acquaintances at an accelerated rate. I have two dear friends who are here but are declining in terms of cognitive ability. These folks are living through the indignity of diminishing mental ability, a cruel chapter in lives so well lived. Is this me next year? Is my inability to remember where I placed my keys an indication that I am going to be in trouble next year? Is leaving my hat in a restaurant in Tallahassee another sign that I might be in trouble? Recall was perhaps my strongest suite, leaving me to wonder if my future is sitting on the dock with the pups, staring out over the water. I have lost, outright, several other friends who were permitted the grace of simply checking out without the drama of slow decline.
Through all of these self assessments, I remain optimistic. I will find a way to crappie fish from someone else’s boat. I love to trout fish, but have devoted little effort to becoming a trout fisherman. I love travel and relish the opportunity to settle into a dive or diner tucked away in some backroad locale to sample their culinary creativity. I still chill when I step onto a Civil War battlefield and contemplate the brutality of that Great War. I continue to enjoy casually dispensing sarcasm, usually directed at the current political clown show and choose to not be a hater, at least of people. I enjoy my friends and have moved on from the vitriol that accompanied betrayal in years past. I am enjoying watching my grandkids as they achieve and am determined to see them avoid the mistakes and traps that only experience can reveal.
As a final thought, birthdays, for me, serve as a reminder that not only am I a little older, but that I continue to be blessed with opportunities to learn, experience, and enjoy life. My good memories crush the bad and I am determined to stay challenged and enjoy life. I believe that if you are not gaining knowledge, you are losing knowledge. If I had a crystal ball, I would pitch it off the mile long bridge into the depths of Truman Lake. Not knowing is truly a beautiful part of life’s ride.
What a hoot!