September 20, 2011

Going 60: The Egg & I

No. 1, Sept. 8, 2011

It’s tempting, when yet someone else asks what it feels like to turn 60, to tell them the truth. But I suppose simple courtesy requires some sort of pleasant, bemused reply. What I’d like to say is, “Just like it felt to turn 50. But beat all to hell.”
The last decade has been, by turns, physically crushing, emotionally brutal, spiritually challenging, and socially disappointing. Yeah, woe is me. I was raised in the church long enough to accept that we all have our own crosses to tote, and while I suspect mine was heavier than others, I know even more bear crosses of lead.
As they say, life happens, and nobody gets a pass from its vagaries. The most important difference between people, my dad taught, is their reaction to getting knocked on their ass. Do they stay down, or stand up? My sisters and I have always gotten back up. We’re from Detroit’s west side, and I’d like to think that when there’s a brown storm, our dad’s tenet shows.
Two of my oldest, best friends came to visit for what they called my “miracle birthday.” They know the details. Plenty of other people would, at one time or another, have laid money against me getting this far for entirely different reasons. To put it in the simplest terms, I haven’t always made the best choices.

Understand that I don’t regard 60 as old in any sense but physical wear and tear. I’m part of that first wave of boomers who redefined the concept of aging as time went on, and rather confidently expect to live another 40 years or so if our execrable health care system ever catches up to the extraordinary work being done by research scientists.
Leukemia Cell
About a week ago, The New York Times ran a science piece about a cancer researcher in Philly who has found a way to “gut” the HIV1 virus of its AIDS-causing core, marry it to a patient’s own T-cells, and send them through the body to attack cancer cells. The story centered on a 65-year-old man in New Jersey who was close to done in by leukemia. The genetically engineered treatment nearly killed him. When he recovered, the leukemia was gone. No one is calling it a cure, but there’s little question it is a significant advance.

When those friends visited for my birthday, it was also to stop by and see a neighbor, another of their nearly lifelong pals who – against some pretty impressive odds – happens to be a native of the same tiny town we chose as home when we moved to the hills of Middle Tennessee two years ago. The men in our small group of marrieds are only a few months apart in age. There’s a few years’ difference between us and our wives, who make us look good.
Although I’d met my friend’s pal first in Michigan and later in New Orleans, we didn’t know much about each other until he invited Vicki and me to share July 4 with his family. When we met, there was instant recognition of a fellow traveler, a guy who shared the same time, many of the same places, and many of the same milestones. It didn’t take much talking out; we’re simply old friends who only now are acquainted.
It happens that we made this acquaintance at the same time he was diagnosed with a virulent  cancer that has reached Stage 4, the direst. He began radiation therapy this morning; chemo starts tomorrow. In a couple of weeks he’ll turn 60.
I spend as much time with him as I can, not because it feels like it’s running out, but because he’s my friend and has had one of the most interesting lives I’ve encountered. We have wild tales from the 1960s; I remember somewhat more of it than he. Where I settled in to something of a routine after that – college, work, marriage, children – he was itinerant, picking up more varied experiences and settling for nothing less than a life fully lived.
We talk a lot and it’s a mutual pleasure, I’m told. It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that he is a complete man – a warrior and a hippie, a sybarite and an intellectual, a father and a husband. He was a Green Beret and an acid rocker. He is one of the most gifted storytellers I know, and I’ve always been a sucker for great stories and the characters who lived them. The tale of the worst day of his life has nothing to do with cancer, but of a six-hour span in which he destroyed his truck and a car wash, ruined a new carpet with airborne purple oil paint, and trashed his lawnmower on an iron-capped gas main.
We talk politics a little, but are far apart in our positions. We discuss theology, one of his passions, and also differ there in some significant places. No matter; good talk. We talk about many less weighty things, and have a tendency to laugh a lot. Cancer is not a verboten topic so we talk about that too. He was insistent, during one talk, that I understand how he regards the long odds against him. “I don’t just feel, I believe, it’s not my time,” he said, looking me right in the eyes. “So I’m going for it.” He is in every sense a stand-up guy.

Simple, our best layer
My 60th birthday was remarkable mostly for what happened on it. My gift from Vicki, a fine band saw to round out my woodshop, arrived a day early. Shortly after, our friends from Michigan pulled up our long gravel drive. Then Simply Red, the pretty little hen we call Simple, laid her and the flock’s first egg. It was a warm, flawless, deep brown egg, smallish because our chickens still have some growing to do. That night, together we discovered a stunningly authentic Mexican restaurant and opened the meal with guacamole prepared tableside in a molcajete, as it’s done in Mexico. We spent most of the next day with our ailing friend and his wife, and there was laughter nearly the whole time.
I didn’t see any “new beginnings” messages in the timing of our first egg. The early arrival of the saw was luck; the saw itself a generous gift from a wife who loves me fiercely, flaws and all. The visit from our Michigan friends was its own special gift from a couple who’ve never wavered in their affection and support. We have shared backgrounds because we lived most of it together.
What I said at the beginning about how it feels to turn 60 stands as a matter of unadorned fact. I’m standing, and doing it in a place surrounded by trees, largely secluded, and generally peaceful.
I’m 60 and living how I’ve always wanted, with a mate who has long wanted the same kind of life. The water is good, the wildlife plentiful, and the ground fertile. We’re tending gardens, a greenhouse, honeybees and chickens, a sweet/smart dog who walked out of the woods one day and wouldn’t leave, two beautiful cats, and a personable little parrot named Monk. As a capper, we now have warm, entertaining friends just a few miles away.
I have no complaints (except our satellite internet hookup) and am looking forward to so many things.
Turning 60 is nothing. My cross isn’t all that heavy. 


  1. Means a lot, KK, thanks for the comment.

  2. You were already missed this weekend as it was, makes me miss you even more. Congrats again on turning 60...may the next 40 be be alittle less hectic.