Tick Tock Tick Tock Tick Tock
When in the world did this happen? 60?!? Really? Me? I harken back to the pact that my sister, Nan, and I made with each other when we were kids. We were to kill each other when we were 40 because we didn’t want to get “old” like our parents. Mom is currently 82. I rest whatever case you may want to raise.
I must profess to a little more shock than the average middle-ager here at the impending decade turn that is coming up very soon. You see I was told back in 1989 that I had 6 months to live and to “put my affairs in order and tell the appropriate people”.
Putting my affairs in order to me, at the age of 37 meant booking a really gay cruise through the Caribbean, shopping for more gold chains and diamond rings (it was the 80’s after all) and buying a Trans Am. Done. And paid for with the trusty Visa card. I figured if I was going to be leaving I was going out in style, looking good and leaving a pile of debt worthy of an emerging nation-state in my considerable wake.
The second part of the medical admonition concerned “telling the appropriate people. I don’t recall sharing this with too many at the time, really. I did call my mother and my family. I remember distinctly telling mom that if; indeed, this was my swan song, that I had had an incredible ride. I had done everything I had wanted to do at the time, lived more than most my age and really, I had no regrets. A couple siblings came flying to my side with “the look”; that frightened little “everything’s going to be ok but I’m scared shitless that you’re dying on me and I don’t know how to help” smile frozen in place. The look that hindered actual communication and stifled anything real except for the love that they painfully felt for me in those awkward moments.
I learned a few things from these medical directives.
1. Talk about it less, act upon it more.
2. Cut up the credit cards…..now.
3. If you want to piss God off…..make a plan.
Done. As the weeks, months and eventually years went by and I wasn’t actually dwindling away to nothing, the wisdom of my learnings became apparent.
1. Talk about it less, act upon it more.
I should say that the original doctors in question, nameless now even to me, had had a hard time with the initial diagnosis of cancer of the stomach. First it was…then it wasn’t….then……it WAS.
It took them three invasive procedures and over 40 tissue biopsies to get one positive piece of tissue that confirmed their “suspicions”. Meanwhile, I was left running the gamut of their medically imposed roller coaster of emotions from, “I’m dead” to “I’m clear!” and back again to “I’m really fucked now”. I’ve never been a gambler but in this instance I really REALLY didn’t like the particular odds that were being dealt on this particular crap table.
So in keeping with the “acting upon it more” section of my lesson number 1, I leapt into action and found all new medical personnel to populate my life with. I found an extremely avant garde general practitioner who listened carefully, acted slowly and wisely and is the reason I am still alive today. I also found an even more avant garde provider in the body of a very German man trained in Asia in acupuncture and related healing arts.
Between the two of them I embarked on a several years course of discovery the mainstay of which was my oft repeated mantra of “I’ll do anything non-toxic in the Western Medical arena and all things Eastern”. The two men worked it out and I must say 22 years later I’m better off than most my age.
As to Number 2 on the list:
2. Cut up the credit cards…now
I did. I had to. Without the helpful end stage condition known as death, I was bankrupt in a disco driven heartbeat. I still continue to hold onto a gold chain and a diamond ring buried in a cobweb encrusted jewelry box to remind me not to over-indulge but the rest is history. The Trans Am gave way to a series of trusty, rusty, old, used Volvo’s, the designer suits now populate a young friend’s wardrobe in Europe where they launched a poor starving student into his first career interviews and continue to serve him well to this day. Good tailoring and silk ties are timeless. And great taste never hurt anyone.
Which bring us to the third principle.
3. If you want to piss God off….make a plan.
I suppose “deciding” I was going to die constitutes a plan in this instance and thus, I pissed someone up there off sufficiently that they decided I should stick around for a few more decades at least and learn my lessons.
Four hip replacements and a few double chins later, I stare down the time-tube of the 6th decade, ready for the ride like a kid at the top of a water slide, heart pounding, nervous, yet excited to get to the bottom and see how well you handled the ride down.
We all run out of it, Time, eventually.
If 40 is the new 30 then 60 is……? Well it’s just fucking 60.
It used to be ancient to me, to us, but now, it’s just another marker on the way to ancient I think. Depending on our particular proclivities and infirmities it can be many things. I now a 72 yo who still teaches yoga, kayaks and smokes the pot she grows for herself everyday. Will that be me?
I haven’t a clue.
We live in Oregon, an assisted suicide state, so I do know that I have an escape hatch, a safety valve if you will. Not that I haven’t done what so many of my generation has and stockpile those unused barbiturates and opiates in the “break glass in case of emergency” drawer. Will we use them? Will we pull that emergency cord?
Who can say? I have witnessed acts of ungodly will by many I loved who railed against the machine and refused the help to exit this life even though wracked with suffering no being should be forced to endure.
But these are questions I will leave for another time, maybe when I’m 70 I’ll revisit this again and see what mood I’m in.
For now, I’m content to be 59 for another few months, curious to see what 60 feels like, emotionally at least, I already know the other shit.
As I assess the 22 years since I first thought about my mortality and faced those really tough questions, I find I have more than enough to be grateful for. For almost 20 of those years I have had the love and companionship of the best man on earth. Without those doctors mucking about with their diagnostic codes and hypotheses I would not have had the impetus and the courage to strike out and assume I was dying and thereby put in motion the rest of my “borrowed time”. The time that has brought me all the love and friends and joy and rapture and sunrises and sunsets and fine wine and exotic places and the people I never thought I’d meet, no less know for years and cherish.
And so, like those fine wines, I’ll pull one from the shelf occasionally, pop the cork, and savor the swirl of another spin around the sun.