Because I may not live to be 80

How often do you think about your life and the choices you make? Do you ever think about what "living life" means and do you then determine if your life and that concept coincide? I think I do too much.

While serving coffee the other day at the local senior center I caught a few glimpses of an older man sitting out in the sun feeding popcorn to the birds and squirrels. Fuck it, it was nice out. I decided to break free of my coffee serving shackles for a few minutes and join him. I'm guessing he was in his 80's. He said I was welcome to sit next to him as long as I didn't talk or move.

As minutes passed he broke both rules by leaning toward me and telling me about the cactus this particular bird is extremely intelligent, way smarter than the quails that are so pervasive to the area. (I still love those adorable tufts of hair on the tops of their little quail heads and how they walk across the top of our fence in single file, smart or not). He said he used to leave his door and windows open in his RV and the wrens would just make themselves at home inside. He also boasted a bit at having once had five squirrels trust him enough to be within touching distance at the same time.

Before heading outside to join him, I thought about who this man might be. This isn't unusual for me. I often create lives, and loved ones, and problems for people I don't know. I had seen him the previous Friday as well. Nothing remarkable stood out. He had wanted some dollar bills in exchange for his 2 dollars in change. As he sat outside, I couldn't help but imagine this image as the opening scene of a movie. Ed, with his back to the senior center, his United States Navy hat doing little to assist views that were already battling the morning desert sun...the Superstition Mountains placed perfectly as a backdrop. His cane resting beside his chair and a 50 cent bag of popcorn sitting on his lap. Technically, it would be the end scene as well. In between the two shots is where the plot delves back into a life shared with a wife for years and years, nothing incredibly unique or out of the ordinary...just real.

I assume he was lonely; especially since the senior center was serving a special "holiday" meal in celebration of Valentine's Day. I could be completely wrong. He could have been celebrating his being by himself. I wondered what he was thinking about as he sat out there. At one point it was clear he had fallen asleep, but the rest of the time I wondered where his thoughts were. I wondered if he was happy. I wondered what kind of life he led up to this moment. I wonder what moved him, what made him as a person. A mechanical engineer from upper New York who moved because there wasn't jobs to be had. That isn't what I'm talking about. I want to know the same thing about him that I want to know for everyone. Was he okay with the decisions he had made in his life? Does he hold onto any regrets? Did he feel that he took advantage of life and any opportunities he might have had? Above all, what did he think life was all about?

Because I question some of my choices.

Right now for example, I question if my changing careers was the stupidest thing I've ever done...

And while I can list out all of my concerns about the current ridiculousness of higher education in terms of cost and effective methods of education, this isn't the time. Besides ultimately, these concerns...they won't even show up in a 5 second clip if given the opportunity to look back at my life. So why do I insist on stressing about matters I can't control?

Last night I watched one of those carpool karaoke clips of the guy who sings with famous people in his car. Elton John was explaining why he still loves to make new music and try new sounds (even if it's clear which songs his fans want to hear during a performance). His reply was something like, "once you stop, you die" and how he only likes "to look forward, not back" because he's not content to sit upon his past achievements.

I like all of that. It's on the same page as to why I made my decision to change careers in the first place. I didn't want to just be content with what I had previously decided for myself. I want to keep moving forward. I want to find me and my purpose for being here as corny and existential as that might sound.

I think death, even if you are not terribly close to the person can make you rethink decisions and attitudes and absolutes that have developed over the years. I remember feeling this exact same way a few years ago when a childhood friend lost her older brother. He was only a year older than us. I didn't know him as an adult outside of briefly reconnecting on fb, but it was easy still to see the vibrancy and charisma of his character. It was easy to see how he impacted those around him, how everyone still adored his personality and was attracted to the ways he experienced life...none of which being any different from how I remember his presence when we were all much younger. It left me a little unhinged, as it seems death often does when it brushes past us closer than we'd like.

Last year around this time my grandmom passed, and a couple weekends ago Tyler and I joined my folks and brother to spread her ashes. My grandmom and I didn't have a great connection. It wasn't exactly horrible. We kind of just didn't have one. As I got older, my grandmother and I competed for my mother's attentions and unfortunately she seemed to "win" way more often than I did. This only made me more disinterested in her company.

I actually don't know enough about my grandmom to talk about her life. I know snippets, periods of time that intersected with my own life, but not a lot. I can list a lot of things that annoyed her, but I don't know what her goals were. I don't know if she had regrets. I don't really know what made her happy.

Death is hard.

I'm unpracticed in how to deal with it. When I went to Washington last year to help clean out my grandmother's house, I was detached from the actual event. I went with the sole purpose to help my mom. She was the one who was struggling and I wanted to help however I could. I mean when I was little my mom logged a ridiculous amount of hours watching my swim meets. She treated my eye infections with the type of care only mothers can exude by pinning me down, her knees trapping my flailing arms, while using one hand to pry my eyelids apart so she could squeeze in the drops of medication. She didn't get mad at me when I soaked her with a hose while she was hiding in the bushes in our backyard attempting to sneak a smoke when she was supposed to be quitting. When I went to Washington it was my turn to help her, and I understood this was the kind of stuff she probably didn't want to deal with.

I worked like a machine. I spent the entire time going through cabinets and closets and Christmas decorations and kitchen utensils and sewing kits and all kinds of pictures of people I didn't know. The only real uncomfortable part was every now and then catching a glimpse of who my grandmom was...finding things that seemed to hold some importance to her when all the doors were shut.

But can you really determine who someone was by the stuff they had?

I look around my house and I've imagined what someone else might see when they empty my cabinets and drawers. Will they learn something about me that they didn't already know? Does our taste in furniture and hobbies actually reflect who we are? It's so weird to think about.

My grandmom had a ridiculous amount of kitchenware: pots and pans and sets of dishes and silverware and an endless supply of serving-ware. I don't even think she liked to cook.

She also had greeting cards from over the years...some from me, cards that I don't even remember giving...saying things that I don't remember saying. That's what age and years passing does. Relationships function in an ebb and flow and it's hard sometimes to see what once was.

I know that when I was 18 a friend and I had driven from Washington State to Philadelphia and my grandmother was kind enough to let us invade her home for three weeks. The memories from that trip are positive and so very hard to categorize alongside of my more recent adult memories.

I was watching Chelsea Handler's Netflix special a couple days after returning from Washington. In one episode Chelsea's father walks in the door. It's obvious that he is not in the best of health, and there's this moment...this shot of Chelsea as she looks at him. It made me bawl without warning. It was just a moment, but it hit too close to home.

I don't get to see my parents very often since we moved to Arizona and death in general is really going to make you acknowledge stuff like that. I don't want to only see them on rare occasions. I want to be able to go for a hike or have them over for dinner. I hate that we live so far from each other and I so rarely get to see them. When we do see each other, it goes quickly. The funny thing about getting older is everyone else is getting older too. I don't want to miss out on shared experiences. I don't want to turn around and see them not as I remember.

But it's not just about them. It's about me. I don't want to turn around and not recognize myself. I don't want to look back on any time in my life and think, "That was a waste of time. Why was I so consumed by such insignificance?" I don't want to put things off that I really want to do...because what if? What if I don't live to be 80 like Ed?

I think we all have ideas of how we see ourselves at our best. I also think we tend to let societal influences dictate how we are supposed to live. So many people in our culture are misaligned with the things they value. Me too I guess.

When I imagine my life without any sort of restrictions...I picture a tiny house on a big piece of property. I want trails all over so that I can ride my bike or hike around with my pups not having to wear leashes. I want a garden, a garden that grows so voraciously I can't keep up with it, and I have to give away the extra to neighbors and donate to food pantries. I want cows, and chickens, and goats, and pigs...not to eat, to just raise. I want to live as self-sustaining as possible while leaving as little an impact on this world as I can. I don't want stuff cluttering my life and my mind, forcing me to believe I need it to be alive and happy. I'm tired of it all.

And so I'm guessing that if this imagined future doesn't come to fruition at some point, it'll be the kind of stuff I'll be thinking about if I am lucky enough to sit outside and feed the birds when I'm 80. I'm guessing I won't still be consumed by the hassle of my attempting to change careers when I was 40. Hopefully, I'll see that I could have kept doing the same thing, but the years would still have passed at the same rate. Hopefully, I'll be able to look back on this time as just one choice in a string of positive choices I once began to make.


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