We lost Uncle Lawrence right after Christmas. When we went to visit him in his last days, I couldn’t help but feel both sadness and pride for having known and loved this great man. Having lost most of my family on this side including my dad many years ago, it was like watching the end of an era. An era that has left vivid oral and visual memories embedded in my mind forever. The rows and rows of bikes he built and repaired, his earth shattering, boisterous laughter, and the joyful recordings of his jovial barbershop quartet. He left a legacy. He left people with memories and stories to tell about him with a smile in their hearts because you couldn’t just think of Uncle Lawrence without feeling giddy inside.
Today I am forty. As I sat emotionally struggling by his bedside in his final December days, I didn’t think about his impending death. I thought about how lucky he was for living. For 96 years at that. Not just any kind of 96 year old life, but one that radiated with appreciation and simple pleasures. Every day someone loses their life. Teenagers to automobile accidents. Mothers to a variety of ruthless cancers. Children to leukemia. The list is never ending as the cycle of life goes I guess. In the local party stores, all the “turning forty” decorations are black, decorated with headstones and visuals of crotchety old men striving desperately to ascend a hill with the assistance of a cane. Forty doesn’t feel like that to me. Forty feels lucky. Lucky that I am still here and get to have these seemingly ordinary days with my family and friends that so many have been denied. Although I may find myself occasionally complaining about the sneaky little whites sprouting in my roots or eyebrows or a little extra love around the girth, I will not let that define the next decade of my life. The comforting thing about forty is that all the growing up bullshit is behind us. We don’t care what people think of us. We are settled. And not settled in a “man your life is boring” kind of way. Settled into the kind of life we have carved out for ourselves with the surroundings, routines, and people who have helped us build our little world. We set out each day knowing full well that aging is not a right. It is a privilege. A privilege that will not go unnoticed or unappreciated. As I venture out into this new era of my life, I will always keep Uncle Lawrence at the forefront of my thoughts, for he was lucky enough to have received the gift of a long and happy life. I may not make it to 96 and that’s ok with me, but at least I know a few things. I know where I have been. I know where I am going. And most importantly, I love where I am. Right now. This is my forty.