Shortly before the Christmas of 1997 my son Jeremy gave me the second of three great gifts he has bestowed upon me, the first being his own life. He gave me a daughter-in-law, dear Emily.
Five years later our youngest son, Nathan, made us grandparents for the first time with the child whirlwind, Isaiah, who would soon dub me “Bompah.” And a couple of years after that Jeremy and Emily presented Carolann and me with a second grandson, Tyler.
We were delighted by our mini population explosion. As every grandparent knows, grandbabies are an opportunity to travel back in time and get it right; to raise one’s own child again giving greater care this time to matters wondrously, joyously trivial and with far less attention paid to the dull necessities of character and behavior.
Somewhere among the weddings and birthings I turned fifty and the AARP had hunted me down with a sleuth like efficiency that would make the CIA proud. If you’re even close to fifty the AARP knows who you are, where you live and what you’re up to. I’d bet my first Social Security check they know where to find Osama bin Laden and that they sold him one helluva life insurance policy.
Late 2001 and early 2002 was a hard year in which my life took serious turns. For one thing, I was fifty. You can’t ignore something like that. During that time I was fired from my job because I was inadequate. Losing a job is usually easily and reasonably dismissed as managerial idiocy but in this case I had to admit they were right. I wasn’t, and could not become, what they wanted
That, as my grandma would have said, is a hard pill to swallow.
That same year my father died. He is still my hero. He was only seventy-two and the most physically fit seventy-two you can imagine. Silver haired, bright-eyed, upright, quick of step and quicker of mind he keeled over from an attack on his heart nobody ever expected. And suddenly, for the first time in my half-century of existence, I found myself vulnerable, frightened and much worse, mortal.
I know I’m giving testimony before a congregation of believers. Many of you arrived at this stage in life before I did. Some of you feel it just now creeping up on you. It’s the sudden realization of the preposterously obvious:
I am not going to live forever!
Of all the surprises life delivers, the joyous, the painful and the sublime, I’m now convinced that nothing in life can prepare you for this hideously lonely revelation which you always knew was coming.
Don’t tell me you’re not afraid to die. Well, tell me that if you like but don’t try to sell it to yourself. It is a lie.
Since then I’ve learned to put my life in proper perspective. My grandsons keep me young of heart. My wife and children keep me young in spirit. And frankly, I just have too damned many important things to do, and even more unimportant things to ignore, than to waste what’s left of my life as a sour ingrate, the guest of honor and sole attendant of a self-inflicted pity party.
No, I will not discard fifty-six wonderful years of love and laughter as if they had never happened or bitterly bemoan their passing.
In that spirit I offer you this resolution: that the business of our later years is to celebrate who we are, where we started, where we’re going and why we matter.
If life is a banquet, as it surely should be, they are clearing the table for my dessert and I intend to savor each bite.
I deserve it.
© 2007 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved