On a glorious yet blistering “heat-dome” afternoon last June, a few friends gathered at a local park to celebrate a decrepit old dude’s hitting six-decades on planet earth. And while this milestone was very real indeed, as a celebratory event, it was (mostly) a ruse. The actual intent of the outdoor get-together was, in fact, something far more important.
It’s true purpose was to seize the long-awaited opportunity for dear friends to re-connect and socialize, live and in person, after many months of collective Covid drudgery and isolation. Despite the mercury topping thirty-five degrees Celsius that day, it was perfect.
For this gaggle of friends, a few blissful hours of simple conversation, laughs, copious hugs, party games, and (of course) strawberry-laden birthday cake was just what the doctor ordered. That they could do it beneath the cool shade of the park’s resident Garry Oaks, especially on such a stifling hot day, was a welcome bonus.
As the afternoon wore on, guests began bidding each other farewell (with promises to stay in touch) then slowly began wandering toward their cars to head home. Once the last goodbye was spoken, the old man stretched out on the cool grass to quietly reflect back upon the day. As he did, a smile crept across his grizzled face.
With the afternoon’s memories fresh in his mind, he mused about the many good friends who attended that afternoon, and how joyous it was to see everyone so happy. Most of all, he thought how wonderful it was that they got to express their love and friendship for each other in person for the first time in two long years.
He felt especially grateful for the pair of special ladies who’d not only organized the party, but who’d stealthily kept many details a coveted secret for the past few weeks. They know who they are; and are truly a most remarkable pair.
Finally, the old man put his thoughts on the milestone he’d recently crossed; and it was in this reflection that two truths about his life became as clear to him as the sixty-year-old nose on his sixty-year-old face.
The first was that he’d been blessed with a good life. Oh sure, there’d been bumps and bruises and scrapes along the way, but who hasn’t some version of these? In his mind, it’s been an exemplary life, one filled with kind, loving people like those who came to celebrate his once-in-a-lifetime milestone. This alone made him feel supremely successful.
The second truth was that he was officially sixty-years-old! How could this be? They say life is short, but this was ridiculous! He didn’t feel old… or did he? Upon further examination, the old man acknowledged some small, but unavoidable, clues which easily proved he could no longer claim spring chicken status.
You know, clues like how his bones creak anytime he stands from a crouch, or how his knees ache and buckle after long walks, or how for years he hasn’t been able to read a single sentence without first donning a pair of bifocals… Yeah, are the those clues I’m talking about.
Did I mention that life is short?
It’s been nine months since that sunny June afternoon, and the old man still wonders where the time goes. As he looks in the rearview mirror at his “awesome yet imperfect” life he takes stock, singling out the most relevant happy times, lessons learned, and bullets dodged that helped him arrive to today.
He thinks about his relationships, the marriages and divorces, unresolved (yet petty) family squabbles, the countries he’s visited, the countries he has yet to visit, friendships made and lost, business successes and failures, the various bucket list items he’s ticked off, and of course, one extremely tough medical diagnosis (and its many repercussions).
Above all, the old man wonders about his role as a father to a son who deserves his patience, understanding and more latitude more than most kids. Was he too hard, too harsh, or too strict with his boy? At times, probably; after all, he is his own father’s son. But as much as this thought pains him, he also knows that despite an extremely difficult co-parenting situation, he always put his son’s needs first, and still does, and always will.
He takes comfort knowing that whenever he tells his son that he loves him (which he does daily), that the sentiment gets echoed back every single time. “Maybe,” the old man thinks, “I’ve not been such a terrible father after all”. This thought gives him a sense of calm.
He had one final realization; one so stark, it stood out like like a lone candle on a dark winters night. He realized he’d already used up over two-thirds of his life. This truth landed with a thud, and with it, his single greatest fear took centre stage.
He fears coming to the end of his life and realizing he only lived one third of it. He fears if he’s not careful, he’ll squander rare opportunities, or miss something important, or not live up to his potential. This idea absolutely terrifies him.
I’m sure you realize by now that I’m the old man; and if I’m being honest, at this stage in my life I should know that my “greatest fear” is probably unfounded. Here’s why:
Ever since I was little, I’ve yearned to, as Thoreau eloquently put, “Live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”, and have always done my best to do so. For example, I’ve been skydiving. I’ve quit shitty jobs I hated. Once, my eight-year-old son and I went tandem para-gliding. Heck, I’ve even faced off against a few great white sharks while cage diving in South Africa! It seems anytime I’ve gotten a little sniff of marrow, I’ve gone all in. Looking back from my semi-geriatric perch, I think I finally understand why.
Behaviourally, my parents were the complete opposite of me. A fearful Yin to my rebellious Yang, so to speak. Any mention of something even slightly risky scared the living bejesus out of them; as such, growing up I heard “no” and “because I said so” a lot. Also, since they both died in their mid-sixties I fear my gene pool is working against me, and must therefore use whatever time I’ve got wisely.
Remember in Titanic when Jack is dining in first class and nasty Francis Fisher asks if he finds his “kind of rootless existence appealing?” Jack replies he does, explains his reasoning, and finishes with “I figure life’s a gift, and to make each day count”. Even though he’s fictional, Jack Dawson sure knew how to suck the marrow out of life.
And while “making each day count” looks different for everyone, for most of us, our end goals are basically the same. We all want to be happy; whatever that looks like for us. We all want to check off a few bucket list items; whatever those may be. We all want to give and receive love; be it with/from family, friends, our pets, or even ourselves.
Like Jack, I also want to make every day count, and with sixty years of living deeply under my belt, I’ve picked up a few guidelines to help me do this. Take a look below and who knows? They may help you do the same.
Either way, I hope you find your own marrow; and when you do, that you suck the living hell out of it.
- Be kind and polite with all people
- Small steps lead to big results; but only if taken
- Be bold in actions and voice
- Ask for things you want
- Embrace fear; it helps us grow
- Read deeply from educational books
- Listen twice as much as you speak
- Practice patience, especially with loved ones
- When you are wrong, say so out loud
- With big things (not ice cream), avoid instant gratification
- Have a financial plan for your life
- Trust your gut. It’s on your side
- When you love someone, show them; go all in
- Surround yourself with people who support you, and dump those who don’t
- Limit social media to ten minutes a day maximum
- Never ask permission, but beg forgiveness instead
Author Bio: David Knapp-Fisher
As founder of The Inspired Humans Project, David loves sharing inspirational stories. His TEDx talk, “Discipline or Regret, a Father’s Decision” been viewed over 112,000 times, and his book, “Punch Failure in The Face, The Buy It a Beer” has 36 five star reviews on amazon.ca.
David lives in Victoria B.C. and spends most of his time trying (& usually failing) to stump his son with movie trivia or planning his next big adventure; both while drinking great coffee, of course.