Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Friend Perspective

Normally, birthdays are times of general depression for me. Times where I reflect on how pointless my life has been in the grand scheme of the world. I'm no Mozart, DaVinci or Christ. I haven't won a Nobel Prize, solved a global problem or even made a financial mark. I'm a guy who lives essentially hand-to-mouth, with modest savings, and a debt load that far exceeds it. And, typically, the weeks leading up to my birthday are a Pandora's Box of angst and shoulda-woulda-coulda's.

This year, however, something shifted. It was likely a combination of many factors (as these things usually are), but they all coalesced after the death of my mother late last year, and forced a lot of my views - on life, love, loss, regret - into fresh perspective.

My mother was a young 66, and in her too-short time she had really lived: loving, traveling, teaching, touching other people's lives and truly appreciating her own. Her physical decline was slow, which was hard in so many ways, but which also afforded me the opportunity to be wonderfully conscious with her as she died. To ask her the questions sons want to ask mothers, and say the things that sons want to tell mothers (but far too often don't). Her passing renewed my appreciation for my life as well as the lives and relationships of those around me. And in honoring her life I began to  regard my own, and it's value in this world, in a new way.

I feel a bit as if I've finally gained an adult perspective on what it means to be alive. When I was younger (and not even by that much), I thought that the measure of a man was that great capitalist trinity of money, fame and power. I quietly believed that any man who thought differently was simply in denial – merely altering his perspective to match his reality. And, for some reason, I thought that made him less of a man.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a sucker for material goods. I love my iPhone and my new birthday flat-screen TV (just ask my wife). It would be great to be rich, famous and powerful. But I no longer think those things do, or should, define me. I am not made a greater man for having them or made a lesser one for not having them. Over the last few months I have come to believe that, though we may be measured by how much stuff we carry, the true reflection of a man is in those with whom he chooses to walk and, perhaps more importantly, those who choose to walk with him.

Over the past several years, my wife has waged a slow, progressive campaign of coaxing (some might call it begging, pleading or prodding) me to open my birthday up to my friends instead of burying myself in a hole and trying to ignore it. I think my fear had been that the more people who knew I was getting older, the older I would actually be. As if, somehow, not marking my birthday would nullify the fact that the planet had made another rotation around the sun while I was on it. What I've found, however, is that the more people who know – the more people I allow into the "circle of me" – the less lonely, and the more alive, I feel.

As one of that circle, you have chosen to walk with me through this life, and I am better, deeper and more alive for each and every one of you. It is, in no small part, because of you that I can look back on my life-that-was without shame or regret, and look forward to the life-that-will-be with great joy and anticipation.

Thank you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Middle-Aged: A Glass Half Full

I was talking to a friend on my recent 38th birthday and he made a joke that I should watch out because I'm almost "middle-aged." It was an off-hand quip – a friendly little jab from a guy who’s been there – but it got me thinking.

As men in this country, we’re trained from early on to see middle-age as a harbinger of doom, the first step to the grave. We fear it, deny it, lie about it and try to run from it. And when it does inevitably arrive we go overboard to prove that it only applies to us as a technicality. And to prove it, we go out and buy the sports car and/or marry the hot 20-year old that we wanted when we were young and virile and, well, not middle-aged.

But what I got to wondering is… why? Why does being middle-aged have such a negative connotation? Couldn’t it actually be – gasp – a good thing? Now, some might say I just don’t get it – that I'm still a couple years away from what most people consider middle-aged. However, statistically, the average life expectancy for a man in the US is 76, and I am now SMACK in the middle of that, so...

Does this mean I should bust into my 401k for that Aston Martin to replace my trusty Subaru or some hot young bimbo to replace my beloved wife? Why in hell would I want to do something so monumentally stupid? Besides the fact that both are simply WAY too much maintenance, I'm quite fond of my trusty Subaru and wholly, deeply in LOVE with my beloved (and hot, if I do say so myself) wife.

In simpler terms, I live a good life and have lived a good life. Sure, I've made some mistakes, I have some regrets and wish some things had turned out differently, but overall I like the life I've lived so far, and the prospect that I have the opportunity to essentially live this life all over again seems to me like something to look forward to, not shrink from. Even if I don't outlive expectations, I'm only half finished! And to top it all off, I now have the benefit of what I've learned from those mistakes, regrets and "if-only"s. Armed with this knowledge I now have the opportunity to make choices that make the next half-life even better, richer and more fulfilling than the first.

What’s not to like about that?
© Dean Purvis - All Rights Reserved
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