Fifty. Half a hundred. Wow.
Isn’t 50-years-old within the chronological blast radius of Betty White, Richie Cunningham’s dad and, oh, I don’t know — dirt itself?
Fifty seemed grand-parently when I was a kid. Ancient, even. It’s also the decade of when my mom, God rest her soul, died.
And now I’ve arrived — rolling both numbers about one hour ago. Fifty.
Becoming 50 doesn’t bother me so much as it makes me think. Think about where I’ve been. Where I’m going. Death. Life. Meaningfulness. Everything that matters.
After all, my life-inventory rap sheet screams that the things that matter to me are squarely in my camp: a wife that loves me and makes me a better person, kids that make my heart smile, a challenging job I embrace and people in my life who really care. With that, who needs things?
Oh yes, a trip to some warm beach, slinging sand-encrusted mudslides with colorful umbrellas — wife at the spa, kids making sand-castles by the water — would be nice. Truth be told, I originally pre-slugged this birthday celebration “Hawaii 5-0,” but an island celebration tis a distant financial dream. For now, anyway.
I guess that turning 50, for me, is really about the power of remembrance. Remembrance of the things that matter — not just for the sake of remembrance, but also for how I view my life today and in the future. And isn’t remembering half the reason we do things in the first place?
Yes, the act of falling in love, traveling to a bucket-list destination, buying a first home, birthing children and other life events matter in the moment. But, in this Life Thing, we’re not only buying the moment, we’re also buying the memories of those moments — and that’s where the big payoff, the lasting payoff, kicks in.
I fondly remember growing up in a small-town bowling alley (and bar), of all places. I even remember the address and phone number, including the fact that Detroit’s area code, 313, sprawled its numerical tentacles all the way 60 miles north to Port Huron at that time.
In spite of the fact that this kind of upbringing had its share of challenges that kids don’t need to be exposed to — too much alcohol, gambling, infidelity, bar fights and salty language — it also provided me with untold memories of goodness, of relationships, of rich experiences that still matter. Heck, I even remember the smell of the place — the freshly lacquered lanes, the sweaty bowling shoes people would rent and re-rent, the grease from the pin-spotting machines and even the bar rags.
Yet, one of the biggest memories I’ll take is the value of committing to working hard. After all, I was a pin boy, a beer-cooler-filler, front-desk cashier, dispute resolver, mechanic, chip-rack stocker and boy-manager-in-training. My parents bought the place when I was in second grade, so I hardly remember not being involved in some kind of significant work.
I also remember the first date with my now-wife, Jacquie. It was a warm summer’s night, and we shared an umbrella, a blanket and some grapes along with a few belly laughs while watching the Detroit Symphony Orchestra patriotically belch “Up With America” pieces at Greenfield Village’s July 4th performance.
The power of remembrance in my Jacquie story is two-fold. First, I remember the power of persistence. When we first met, Jacquie informed me that she “really didn’t have” a work number and that she was going out of town for two weeks — classic blow off signs, these, I figured. Yet, in spite (or maybe because) of those challenges, I didn’t give up until I got my answer in the form of a misty kiss in a rain-soaked, muddy parking lot.
The second thing this years-ago experience gave me is the knowledge that when things get tough in a marriage, remembering what you just couldn’t live without when you first met is a powerful grounding mechanism — a yesterday anchor getting you through today’s arguments, kid-vomit on your new Johnston & Murphys and unpaid utility bills sitting next to the blender.
Powerful stuff, memories.
I could go on and on, remembering 50 other things, including our wedding day, birth experiences, burying parents, my first few days in college, break-ups, learning to swim at some roadside Holiday Inn and Christmas dinners with grandpa going on and on during the blessing. But the important point is to really appreciate the unbelievable importance of memories themselves — big and small. Especially the small ones.
That’s why I think one of the saddest diseases humankind is subjected to is dementia/Alzheimer’s — those maladies rob people of so much by depleting victims of the memories that constitute the distilled essence of where they came from. But that’s another blog for another time.
When we’re born, we’re like this mesh filter, and the only thing that this filter catches are memories borne of experience. Some, we let pass through. Others, our cranial mesh keeps — even clings to. And those that we keep are the life-story glue that binds our historical narrative, underpins our value system, girds our current-day actions and, to the extent we wish, guides our future.
That’s why my resolution to keep some sort of journal chronicling not only major life events, but also the littlest of daily things my kids do matters: because we forget so much. We so easily lose the rich tapestry of little things, the robust mosaic of small experiences that make up who we are, how others view us and how we view ourselves.
Fifty years of memories that tell me who I am without limiting who I want to become. Fifty years of memories that support me when things get difficult, that precede me, follow me, guide me. Memories that matter so much in the end.
To me. And to you.
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