When I was 25, I wondered if I would make it to age 30. My father died in an industrial accident at 29. All of his brothers died before living for more than two decades. A common worry in our family was that no male would survive to reach 30 and I was the oldest of the sons to reach that age.
That worry kept me pushing to get things done before age 30. I took a class load without study halls for two years and then spent one summer in school to skip the 11th grade and gradudate from high school a year early, to become the youngest full-time reporter ever at The Roanoke Times at age 17 before moving on at age 21 to take a post at The Telegraph in Illinois side of the St. Louis metro area.
A helicopter crash came close to killing me in my early years. Others in the Huey died when it went down. I spent a lot of time in the hospital, had to learn to walk again but survived.
When age 30 arrived, I was still at The Telegraph and the surprise birthday party was a night of hard partying and relief that the family curse was broken. In the following year, I met my future, and still, wife Amy. Two years after that, we moved to the Washington, DC area.
At age 40, I consumed a fifth of Jose Cuervo Gold tequila and went swimming in the pool of the couple who put together that year’s surprise party. The temperature on that December night in McLean, Virginia, just down the road from the entrance to the CIA, was bitterly cold but I didn’t notice it and escaped without a cold or even a hangover.
When 50 arrived, I was more than six years sober and three years away from the turn of the century. Fifty was more a time to reflect than 40. At 40, I hoped I could live at least twice as long. At fifty, the idea of reaching 100 seemed more than a stretch.
By 60, Amy and I had left the Washington, DC area after 23 years and moved to our present home in Floyd County, back to where I had spent my high school years.
Seventy arrived in 2017. I had survived another long round in another hospital in another place after a crash with my motorcycle five years earlier, and I felt, for the first time in my life, as old as I really was, replete with aches, pains, a hobbled walk, and other problems, but I could still work the sidelines of football games, or the basketball and volleyball gyms to shoot sports and cover news for newspapers.
This brings today, Dec. 17, 2020, and birthday 73. For most of my life, people said I didn’t look as old as my age claimed, but they don’t say that so much nowadays. My black hair and beard began to show some gray in my 30s and my temples were solid gray by 45. Now my hair is white. So is the beard. My hands, which a writer and photographer uses most often, show the most wrinkles.
Consider this: At age 73, I have lived 3,796 weeks or 26,663 days (including four leap years) or 639,912 hours or 38,394,720 minutes or 2,303,683.200 seconds. When I realize my heart has been beating for more than 2.3 billion-plus seconds, I wonder “how in the hell did that happen?”
Numbers come into play when we age. Amy and I have celebrated 41 years of marriage two days earlier. I’ve written more than 15,000 newspapers articles over the last 57 years, shot more than 130,000 news and feature photographs for news publications during that same period, traveled to all 50 states plus three American territories, visited every continent (including the North and South Poles) — mostly for work.
“If I had known I would have lived this long, I would have taken better care of myself,” Minneapolis newspaper columnist Billy Noonan told those honoring him for his 70th birthday in Sept., 1951.
Others copied that expression over the years: U.S. composer Eubie Blake, baseball hero Mickey Mantle and Hollywood producer Adolph Zukor.
Robert Henley, Earl of Northington served as the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain in the 1760s, and was quoted in a book by his grandson in 1831: “If I had known that these legs were one day to carry a Chancellor, I’d have taken better care of them when I was a lad.”
My maternal grandfather, when asked if he was concerned about things he might have done in moments of weakness over the years, answered: “I’m old enough to know better but still young enough to not give a damn.”
That same grandfather also said: “If you’re living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room. Take the plunge and enjoy life.”
“Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly…but merely to be lived,” writes author Mandy Hale. “Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly, imperfectly, magically lived.”
I’m 73. I’ve lived but there still more living to do with my life, partner, lover, and best friend Amy. Let’s not waste a second of the time we have left.