Recently, via Facebook, I was able to find and successfully make contact with old friends from my high school and college years. I also explored for friends from past work places. Some of these people I had been very close to: bosom buddies I’d call them. But somehow, they had drifted into crevasses of lives that I didn’t have a clear vision of. Some were hiding out from various things. But, I was persistent … I rooted them out anyway. In my searching, I also found some obituaries. It was sad to know that a high school sweetheart was gone. Old friends I re-acquainted with told me of others who had passed. I’m 64 and all these people who are still living are my age as would be those who are gone from this earth.
I heard a lot of stories from different folks about how and why their individual lives had unfolded in the manner in which they did. As to be expected, those unsuccessful laid blame on others, failing to accept responsibility for their own decisions. Not all but so very many had done what I call “quitting” or “giving up.” They were the most excited about their huge screen TV with a fridge full of brews next to the recliner. I could see twinkie and peanut patty wrappers along with snack crumbs piled up and beaten into the carpet where they put their feet. Exercise was a walk to the baño to make room for more of the same. I felt terrible for them. They had already begun the process of dying. They had willingly placed a foot in the grave.
Others had a different outlook and had stacked up cash, mates, homes and cars in an attempt to feel good about the journey. More was always better and no amount was enough, especially if someone around the corner or at the office had more stuff. The pile-it-uppers had stuff that had never been used, still in wrappers and were buying more! You know, just in case …
There were a few folks, kinda like me, who decided to hit the middle ground on the way to a successful career and retirement. But, there was only one who reflected some of my direct sentiments. It was Mitch.
I met Mitch, who hailed from New Orleans, when I was 18. We were both servers in one of my cities most popular, newest and chic restaurants. He was a cool guy and we spent much time together, along with our respective girls, cooking and partying; heavy, heavy on the partying. The hospitality industry was well known at the time as a workplace that catered to substance abusers. We were all up to speed on Hunter Thompson who seemed to be a good mentor at the time. Were we looking for Ponce de Leon’s legendary Fountain of Youth? Maybe. We always burned the candle at both ends. We were after something. Was it more than a good time?
Mitch and I had our first conversation in about 40 years via a Messenger phone call. He spoke a great deal about folks who had given up on their lives in various ways. He was a 10 year survivor of stage IV lung cancer. Four percent of those diagnosed with this advanced disease are expected to exceed one year in longevity. He beat it. One leg is mostly steel. He never gave up. He walks and fishes although he tells me he gets tired more easily than he used to. Even though I’ve not faced cancer, I’ve faced death in other ways. From the time I was very young, death has been a companion, an advisor, a specter at my elbow with a constant reminder. I thought the grim reaper had me when an infection on my heart’s mitral valve almost took me out about ten years back. But, my time wasn’t then.
Long before then, I had already known death as I had been around the dead and the dying numerous times. Some people were really sick, others were the victims of accidents. Death has a peculiar odor, you can actually smell it on some folks when they are close to expiring. Others are found in association with certain things that suggest an untimely end awaits. Others, I see it in their face; it may or may not be in their eyes but it’s there. It wasn’t on Mitch when we had our video call, he had strength.
When Mitchell said, “I don’t want anyone thinking I’m some old man,” it galvanized my butt. He’d said my secret, he had spoken it. He knew about it. He lived it. I’d write, “These days Mitch and I…” but that would be a flat lie. Mitch and I both do all we can to stay very active and choose endeavors perhaps best suited to younger bodies but not necessarily younger minds. We have never changed, this has always been our outlook. Like Jon Bon Jovi sings, “I’m headed out in a blaze of glory…” Me too, if I can. If given a choice, I would see my life end without the debilitating consequences of disease. I bet most would choose this path in opposition to long and painful physical and mental suffering.
I’m going to die but I don’t expect to. I have the mechanisms in place to insure the well being of my family after I’m gone from this world. But, I accomplished that so very long ago. I focus on living life to its fullest. I’m a sponge, absorbing all of it I can soak up. I drip the drops of life. I try to maintain an existence on this earth that is larger than the actual life I was given. That guy Mitch, he’s doing the same. We share that common thread in our life fabrics.
But there are other circumstances that we should heed in examining our longevity. Remember my comment about death being in association with certain things? My photograph made along the northern coast of Ecuador is the real deal. He had it on him; death had left the station and was hurtling toward him like a runaway locomotive. If you look up and buzzards are following you, it’s probable that the reaper’s blade is arcing in with an ugly hiss. I’m going to keep going, racing until hell freezes over and then I’m racing on the ice. I’ll be a hard one to stop but Mitch … well, he may go on forever. God speed Mitch. Now, he tells me he’s looking for a new adventure to keep on pushing his envelope. He thinks Ecuador sounds dandy based on my stories and, being the way he is, it’ll likely suit him to a “T.” Because in the end, whichever way that end is, it’s always going to be best to be racing toward something good and not running away from something you don’t like.