Thursday, July 28, 2011

Double Nickels

Run, rabbit run
Dig that hole, forget the sun
And when at last the work is done
Don't sit down
It's time to dig another one

For long you live and high you fly
But only if you ride the tide
And balanced on the biggest wave
You race towards an early grave
Breathe  |  Pink Floyd  |  Dark Side of the Moon  |  © 1973 Roger Waters
The Daily Grind
It’s a complex dance, yet one so familiar and well-practiced that we rarely stop to even give it the briefest of consideration in our work-a-day world.
Gotta go to work.
The biblical account of Adam and Eve explains that it’s The Curse in action; the realization of God’s decree in Genesis 3:19, upon Adam and Eve’s expulsion from The Garden:
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.

New American Standard Bible
Some of us live to work, but all of us in one form or another, work to live.
For most in modern society, whether you’re a member of the nine-to-five, swing shift, or graveyard crowd, we all put in our time — figuratively or literally — punching the clock. We scratch out our existence; some of us working for The Man, and others of us, being The Man.
But while such harsh metaphors of employment are hardly the reality for most of us blessed to live here in 21st century America, the concept has, and always will be, relative.
And even as Roger Waters’ brilliantly poignant lyrics to the nature of our everyday existence speak to the more-or-less metaphysical aspect of the treadmill we call subsistence, yet another rock group, the 80s hair band, Loverboy ironically distills the concept to a much more immediate, corporeal, single statement (although they probably didn’t intend it that way):
Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend.
And indeed we are.
Ever consider the paradox in how many of us view our jobs? Every Monday morning we wish it was Friday, and every Sunday night we wish the weekend was just one day longer. Finally, one day we wake up and realize that every work week we pray will pass quickly is five less days we have left in our lives to enjoy; to experience; to celebrate who we are and why we’re here.
Kinda sobering, ain’t it?
Workin’ Fool
I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds in assuming that most people think as I do on the subject, but if you don’t, I’m sorry, however, I’m actually quite happy for you at the same time.
It’s just that after 33 years of official membership in the working class, supporting myself and my family, and being inexorably connected to the mass vibe of America’s commerce machine, I believe I’m qualified to go out on a limb and say that, given the chance, the vast majority of Americans would opt out of their usual existence if they could. In other words, we work because we have to, not because we want to.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule. Some people do indeed love their jobs and hopefully, not everyone hates what they have to do to earn a buck. I, for example have always loved the fact that I’ve basically made a career out of doing what I’ve always wanted to do. That’s a real advantage in the quality of life department for yours truly and something I am indeed grateful for.
I’ve been blessed to have achieved what I considered among my ‘dream jobs’ on two separate occasions, in two related, yet distinct fields. Each was challenging, each was exciting, and each was gratifyingly successful.
But given even my own experiences, I know that the notion of the truism, “Find the job that you truly love and you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life,” is little more than type-‘A’-personality bullshit. Most of us are far too lazy and much too selfish ever to choose spending 40-60 hours a week making somebody else rich, over logging that same amount of ‘me time’ in its place
Than being said, just because I’m not stuck digging ditches for a living (not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you), don't think for a minute that if I ever won the lottery (or some other nonsensical pipe-dream that will never happen), that I would miss the work-a-day grind for even a millisecond.
No way, Jose.
I am of an age in which I’ve accomplished more than enough to make me feel as though my life has been worthwhile. And while I might not be counting the days until retirement (mainly because it’s been a long time since I took math in school and I’ve sorta forgotten how to count that high), I am most definitely looking forward to that time when it finally does arrive.
I still can’t drive…55
So what does all this face-sweatin’, run-rabbit-runnin’, work-a-day-hatin’ business have to do with the subject of small change and/or highway speed limit signs? They’re all associated with a journey — the journey — upon which you and I each embark in order to get where we’re going to in this life. The way that we respond to these cues more often than not can dictate not only the enjoyment of the ride, but the quality of the vehicle in which we’re asked to travel as well (...both literally and figuratively).

So why the even-more-intense-than-usual-navel-gazing-metaphysi-babble subject matter today, you ask? Well, as far as that aforementioned journey is concerned, as of today I'd have to consider myself a little better than two-thirds of the way home, so it’s kinda heavy on my mind. Today is my birthday. I’m 55 years old, and for the first time in my life I can honestly say, I’m not all that ‘happy’ about it.

I am none too thrilled about the speed at which time is passing. I am particularly not jazzed about the fact that now, the longing for time to think and to write and to do the things that I want to do is, essentially, tantamount to hitting the fast-forward button of my lifespan — skipping over the ‘now’ in favor of the ‘later,’ when life will be simpler; when I no longer have to run the treadmill; when I’ll likely be too old to really enjoy it.
And I guess what bugs me the most is that I’m realizing that I’ve now become the person I always used to make fun of; the one who insists on re-celebrating his or her 39th birthday each year; the one who wants time to stop instead of embracing old age gracefully.
Some may point to ‘50’ or perhaps ‘65’ as the most momentous of latter-year landmarks in a person’s life. However, for me, ‘55’ is the big one.
‘50’ was a piece ‘a cake; my life almost literally began at ‘40’; I was still trustworthy when I hit the big ‘3-0’.
But ‘55’? Please. Somebody cue Sammy Hagar.
This is the day I officially hit the backside of the hill; this is the year in my life that initiates, statistically, the accompaniment of exponentially fewer chances that I’ll live long enough to see another one.
I knew that this day would come; I just thought I’d be better prepared; I always figured that I would sort of grow into the part a little more — you know — like actually feeling 55?
Instead, it’s like someone went back to 1991 and threw me into some damned time machine, then dropped me off here in 2011 and announced, “Congratulations, AJ, you’ve hit double-nickels. Averages say you now have 22.9 years left to live (if you’re lucky). Oh, and so sorry that the last 20 years of your life have been a blur, but get used to it; the next 20 will go even faster.”
My Forties: The Good Ol’ Days?
Remember how momentous just the the idea of the impending dawn of the new millennium seemed, years before it happened (and then quickly became old hat)? Long before the late 90s doomsday hubbub surrounding the computer implications of Y2K became the subject of near-mass panic, I can clearly recall thinking about the year 2000 way back in the 70s and 80s, realizing that I’d be the ‘ancient’ age of 43 when we finally hit the turn of the century. “Wow,” I thought. “I’ll be so old by then. I wonder how I’ll feel...” (as I imagined myself all wrinkly, with gray hair and liver spots).
Hell, are you kidding? 2000-2005 were among the very best, most life-affirming, productive, and liberating years evAR for me! Outside of my early 20s, there were no better ‘good ol’ days’ than my early-mid-to-late 40s. It was a time in my life when I experienced and felt many different things, but never, ever, was ‘feeling old’ among them.
And to be honest, I still don’t; I feel and think of myself as the same guy I was 25, 30, even 35 years ago. But that’s just the problem — the calendar (with an assist from the mirror) says otherwise.
Of course I’m being more than a little melodramatic here, but you get the point. Everything is relative, and particularly in our culture, hitting your mid-fifties is hardly tantamount to loitering at death’s door. Nonetheless, to ignore reality at this point in life and continue thinking that I’ll simply go on, unaffected by time’s incessant march is the most absolute definition of folly.
However, I’m not looking for a pity-party here on my birthday. After all, there’s nothing magical — or fatal — about reaching the age of 55. It’s just that with such a major mile-marker on the road of my life now in the rear-view mirror, I kinda felt that I should acknowledge — to myself if to no one else — that feeling like I’m 32 should never be confused with believing I still am.
My American Dream
Again, in the event that this post’s intent somehow became obscured in the firmament of sparkling anticipation for my golden years, let me repeat: this really isn’t a woe is me kinda post. It’s actually a celebration; a celebration of simple reality despite my oft-not-so-simple way of dealing with it. I am actually much happier and satisfied with how my life has turned out than that twenty-something kid who once wondered about Y2K ever imagined he would be.
Have all of my dreams come true? Hardly; but a lot of them did. But don’t get me wrong — I haven’t stopped dreaming; it’s just that now, my goals are more practical, and a lot less costly — both physically and spiritually. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my 55 years on this rock; my greatest ongoing dream is to see to it that I never make them again.
At this point, I figure that I yam what I yam, financially; I’m firmly ensconced in the middle class and that’s more than okay with me. There’s no Mercedes in my future — not that I have ever honestly wanted to own one. I have no more dragons to slay; no more truly daunting mountains to climb. And to be perfectly honest, I never really had many to begin with. I’ve always been much more about keeping my life simple; about being happy, and humble, and most of all, realistic.
I’ve never made a lot of money, but I’ve been rich for quite awhile.
My American Dream is my wife, Michelle, my kids, Shawn and Amy, and the aforementioned fact that I have indeed experienced my dream career; twice. I may not be the very best at what I do, but I’m confident that I’m better than most, and that’s okay too because something else that I did years ago pretty well filled that oftentimes silly compulsion we Americans seem to feel is our birthright.
I was a collegiate national champion in my sport of choice, gymnastics. As a rings specialist, I performed a skill on that apparatus that, in the opinion of a few people who would know, had never been performed in the same way by anyone else, before or since. And that, right there, is more than most people would require to feel as though they’ve accomplished something.
But before you wag your head and say, “Oye, there goes AJ bragging about gymnastics again,” let me stop you and say that you’re missing the point. I don’t walk around the house, wearing my gymnastics medals nor is it the first thing I bring up in conversation with the man on the street. I don’t need to employ athletic accomplishment as a crutch to make me feel special, but there’s no denying that it does. I don’t live on past glories, yet I continue to be fulfilled by them in a most wonderfully contented way.
However, that’s nothing compared to how rich and how blessed I feel to be married to Michelle, now for 32 and a half years, and for having successfully raised two incredible, beautiful, and talented children. And buddy, that’s worthy of bragging about, right there. Michelle is the game-changer in my life; she is the reason you should ALL be bummed out that you’re not me.
Comparatively speaking, all the shiny gold medals in the world can’t hold a candle to that accomplishment.
The cynics among you may dog me for being so easily satisfied; for not pushing myself more, but you can’t touch how truly happy I am to have what I have and to have done what I have done. I may not have all the toys that often mark the success other of men my age, but I also don’t have the bills, the heartburn, and the pressure that comes with it, following you around like a pet.
I have fought the good fight; I have kept the faith, and I ain’t finished yet.
I am 55 and I am content.
It may all be downhill from here, but I’m pretty sure that I’m gonna enjoy the ride.
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