A Lot of Living to Do...

A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the veterans I've had the pleasure and privilege to meet at my new work location. I see them and others regularly now, and it's always a wonderful change of pace to have one of them come and sit at my desk for a while. They tell me the stories I'd be asking my grandpa to tell me, if he were still alive.

One of these men, a WWII vet who participated in the Berlin Airlift, has stopped by a few times recently. I've mentioned my stepson has been building WWII era model airplanes, and he drops by to give me old calendars depicting combat aircraft in large, color photos...meant, I believe, to be inspiration for the model-making. Pretty cool.

Anyway, a few days ago this customer came to order foreign currency in advance of a trip he was taking to Germany. For the second time, he has been asked to be present for ceremonial honors bestowed by none other than German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But he was buying currency in addition to the Euro he'd need for the Germany trip. I asked him about it. He became whatever happens at the intersection of shy and giddy and a little bit proud.

As it turns out, he'd been contacted a few years back by the grown daughter of a foreign-born woman he'd met abroad during his service. He and the woman had dated--she had even flown to the United States to visit him once--but she'd returned to her country, they'd gone their separate ways, married and raised families, and 60 years later both found themselves single again.

Now, on the heels of his trip to Germany, he was going back to visit her and meet her family.

Here's what strikes me about this: My customer is game. At 80-something, he is game. Not only that, he is lucid as can be, appears years younger than he is, is in great shape, has a full head of hair, is adventurous. At 80-something, he has a lot of living to do.

What an inspiration.

We have a family friend who was similarly located by the son of her old flame some 40 years after they'd parted ways. The two were reunited and enjoyed a few wonderful, loving years together before he passed away.

Yesterday I met a woman who'd just divorced her husband of 50 (yes, 50!) years, and she told me that while it was difficult at times, she was excited about the beginning of her second life.

At 35, I sometimes feel like I've already lived a dozen lifetimes. I tell people stories of things I've done, situations I've lived in/through  (human rights observer in Chiapas, Mexico at 19, adult ESL instructor at 25, married in Karachi, Pakistan at 27, co-restaurateur/K-12 substitute teacher at 30), and I feel like I'm talking about another person in another space and time. And this is what I love about the life I've lived so far. I love that it keeps moving forward into unpredictable realms (don't ALL our lives?). I, too, strive to be game and to welcome all those new twists and turns as they come.

Allow me to venture into the beyond-all-hope corniness level for a moment and quote the Andy Dufrense character from The Shawshank Redemption: "Get busy living or get busy dying," he says. And then let me go one step beyond that hopelessly corny level to quote Johnny Cade from The Outsiders when he tells Ponyboy Curtis (on his deathbed), that "sixteen years ain't gonna be long enough."

Whatever it is, I think, it ain't gonna be long enough.

I know I've heard people talking about reaching an age and a level of satisfaction with the lives they've led that leave them feeling ready to die. I can't picture it. I'm not sure I believe that a life lived fully and without regrets of the shoulda/coulda/woulda nature automatically leaves one in a state of acceptance about The End. It's possible, but I definitely don't want to imagine if I DON'T seize upon all that life has to offer and experience the alternative, which I imagine would be a state of panic.

If I'm 80-something and I receive that call, the one that says "Please come here," wherever "here" is, I want to answer it, with joy.

Up to the end, I want to remain open to the promise and possibility of new experiences, or to new versions of old ones. The answer to every invitation should be "Why not?" (And there are a lot of very, very good reasons to decline invitations. But in the absence of them...)

I think living like this is perhaps the best way I can think to honor those who would have loved to live longer. What more profound way is there to disrespect my life than to be gifted with 60 more years of it only to sit around and do nothing interesting, take no risks, refrain from adventure? To not embrace love and embarrass myself and to retell the embarrassing story if it means having the chance to make another person laugh. To not travel as far--physically, emotionally, intellectually--as I think I possibly can...and then to go beyond.

If you're reading this (or if I've yet to meet you!), no matter who you are, I'm happy and honored to be here on this journey with you. And I hope you'll say yes to adventures with me for many, many years to come (especially you, Kevin Wiseman :) ).

Kevin's Sketch

(A small portion of his ever-evolving Aliento del Diablo, growing richer in strange and haunting detail by the day)

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