As I approached my 50th birthday today, my wife asked me if this is the life I thought I’d have at age 50. It was funny, because I had actually thought about that very thing earlier that same day. The truth is, I don’t ever remember a time where I thought about what my life would be like at 50, I just sort of assumed I’d be gone by now. So, in a way, this is all kind of like bonus time to me. Which reminds me very much of being 29 too. Two things happened that year, one my therapist challenged me with the reality that after my mental health breakdowns, and my divorce, no one was really depending on me, so why not just focus on building the life you want instead of what everyone else wanted. That was followed by running into a friend just prior to my 30th birthday, who said something similar about turning 30, everyone assumes you are what you are at this point and stops trying to turn you into something else, so you get to just be who you want to be.
Turning 50 kind of feels like that too. Actually, even as I edged into my late 40s, it started to feel like that.
Not because I have any plans to get divorced again, not even close. It’s not the lack of anyone depending on me like it was at 29 that makes me feel this way again. No, it’s something much deeper. Something I started to think about maybe close to 2 years ago now, which has led me to already make some changes in my life, in regards to my professional life, and our current location.
What was it, you ask? It was realizing, at a much deeper level than I think I’ve even known before, that I’m going to die. Hopefully not any time soon, but I know, truly know, that there will come a day when I am no longer here, and that I actually have no idea when that day will come. Not only that, but everyone else is going to die as well. We may not have much equality in this life, but death will come for us all. It is part of what makes us all human, passing on at one time or another. Doesn’t matter what race you are, how rich or poor you are, how famous you are, where you live, what you believe, or who you voted for. We are all going to die.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be morbid. Quite the opposite. I think this realization comes with a few very important lessons though:
- Do what matters. If you’re going to die anyway, why not do what you want each day? So what if you fail, or if people might judge you, or if you embarrass yourself, we’ll all be dead eventually and that won’t matter. Seriously, why not try something new? Why not go on an adventure? Why not make lasting memories with the people who love you? Why not live the days you have, because you don’t know how many you will get?
- Leave a legacy. It is not just for the rich and famous among us. I may not be able to leave the entire world with something I created, but I can make damn sure I impact the people around me in profound ways. I can make a difference in people’s lives around me, and that difference can go on to impact other people long after I am gone. I can give, I can teach, I can support, I can care, I can love. That’s how you leave a legacy.
- My story matters. Not just to me. It matters because my story may be unique, but being a child abuse survivor, being a suicide attempt survivor, a depression survivor, is far from unique. It is another way that I can leave something behind, by letting other survivors know that they aren’t alone, and they can overcome. They can even leave behind their own legacies in the people they love as well. It’s important that everyone knows this.
- It’s the people. One of the most amazing things about this ride I’ve had for 50 years so far, is not just the adventures. It’s not just the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen. I’ve done quite a lot of that, but it’s not the most important thing. It’s the people we’ve met along the way. Whether it’s family far and wide, friends I grew up with, friends I’ve made at work, online, or in the various places we’ve lived over the years, it’s absolutely heartwarming to know that as my birthday approached, there were people from all these different areas who reached out, who gave of their time, or gave to my fundraiser for AFSP. People who value me, and the things I do. I’m more proud of that than anything I’ve done by myself.
- We are, in the end, all the same. We are all unique human beings, but we all also have the same intrinsic value as human beings. I know this is not a popular opinion these days, when we spend so much time dehumanizing one another at every turn. I don’t care what you have done, what you believe, who you voted for, what crimes you have committed, what hatred you may have in your heart, what harm you may have done to others. You are still a human being, and have value. In the Bible it talks about God’s grace. That he has sent His Son to forgive our sins so that we may live in a state of grace. I believe that human beings should show grace to one another as well. Not that we have to agree with each other, not that there shouldn’t be consequences for committing crime, or that hatred should be allowed to stand unopposed, but that we remember that we are all human. That our lives have value and potential on the basis of that humanity, and that we all make poor choices sometimes because of that humanity. That death will be coming for us all, the proud and the humble alike, and will leave us all humbled in the end. To borrow from Jim Morrison’s biography, “No one gets out alive”, and that includes you. Be humbled by this. Show grace. Show grace to everyone. Be radical about showing grace and recognizing the humanity in everyone. Even if they don’t do the same. Even those whom society hates. Even those who you hate. I’m not saying you have to have them to tea, just recognize the shared humanity that we all have.
So yeah, as I turn 50, I do find myself facing my own mortality to some degree. Not because of any impending illness, or anything like that. Maybe it was my father passing away in 2016, or the way that social media connects us and allows us all to share when someone has passed away that maybe I wouldn’t have known about when I was younger and we didn’t have all these communications platforms. Maybe it’s just maturity, finally. 😉
Whatever it is. I’m glad to have it. We don’t like to think about death, let alone talk about it. But maybe if we removed some of the mystique around it, and at least acknowledged it, we could use that knowledge to do some good while we can. In the meantime, while I am still here, I plan on caring, giving, loving and teaching as much as I can. I plan on telling my story as often as I can. I plan to keep working to be a better husband, friend, coworker, and human being. I plan to show grace as much as I can, and I plan to be humble about my own failures.
And most of all, I plan to celebrate life while I can, with anyone who wants to celebrate it with me.