On Longevity

February 27, 2015 at 9:22 pm Leave a comment

Here’s a fun thing to do the day before you turn 40: go to this Social Security website, punch in your birthdate, and see the average number of years someone your age has left. (It’s 42.1 more for me, if you must know. Not quite “mid-life.”)

These landmarks trigger an involuntary plunge into reverie and reflection. It’s times like these I remember that—as is probably the case with most people—I wouldn’t have made it this far without a couple strokes of luck. I remember sitting helpless in a passenger seat as a teenager while a friend hit 75 miles an hour down a hill, went up on two wheels on a curve and into the left side of the road, and brought the car back down with a swerve, missing an oncoming vehicle by mere feet.

And there was the time I fell off the dugout at Memorial Stadium as a child and landed on my head. Turned out okay. And there was the boy in Rio de Janeiro with the eight-inch blade who robbed my wife and me on an abandoned side street (what were we thinking?!), becoming agitated as he began to discover a billfold I’d hidden. Then a car came around the corner and he took off running.

All of these scenarios could have either spelled the end or turned me loose with a great story to tell later. I got the stories. What are you going to do?

It’s a nice spot, here at forty. There’s so much to look back on, and, having just watched my father turn 80, I know there may be just as much or more to come. I think I can honestly say, though, that if I only last one more day, I’m satisfied with what I got. When I turned 30, I was dissatisfied, and I turned a lot of my life upside down to make room for new things. Taking those chances paid off. Personally and professionally, I achieved more in the last ten years than I thought I would in my whole life. I also found someone I was willing to stay with until the end, and we started a family.

In my early thirties, I didn’t want to take a breath in the same place twice. As I start my forties, my wife and son and I have settled into a home. We expect our second son in two weeks, at which point our family will be complete. Our goal is to keep a sense of adventure in our lives, but in the grand scheme of things there isn’t really any more to be gotten. From here on out, our family is what it is. We’re here, we’re healthy. We did it.

Accordingly, our focus shifts from anticipating what we have to gain to appreciating everything there is to lose, which is…everything. Through that lens, it becomes clear that all I’ve gained, all that has satisfied me, would have been impossible without my extended family, my friends, my community. In them I’ve found inspiration and support in pursuit of my dreams, and uplifting during moments of disappointment, despair, and confusion. They’ve given and given.

I want more years with them. I want to give back. Of course, I know that the longer I last (forget 82, I want the 94 my grandmother got), the more of my friends and family I’ll have to watch disappear. That’s okay—that just means I’ll have gotten the maximum time possible with them.

What if I should fall through a sidewalk cellar grate to my death tomorrow? (It happens! I’m right to be paranoid!)

That’s going to have to be okay, too. When I was in my twenties, I wasted a lot of time thinking about mortality, convinced that as I aged I’d become more and more graceful and accepting of the end. I didn’t. I’ve become more short-sighted, less self-possessed, more impatient. While I say that I’m satisfied with what I’ve got upon looking back, when the next moment comes along, I’m as greedy as the next person as far as what I want out of it.

That needs to change. How am I going to be okay with dying when I’m not okay with the guy in the car in front of me taking too long to realize he’s got a green light?

Through my children. What I see now in each of my children, beyond their own selves and limitless potential, is a mirror on my own character. It starts by watching your mouth, but the pride you take in simply refraining from dropping f-bombs in front of your children doesn’t last long. Eventually you realize they see and hear everything, and that no matter how meticulous your instruction to them in the profoundest questions and minutest details of life, what will remain with them is what you do and say when you think they’re not paying attention. (Oh, they are.) When I die, I want to die in the middle of being a good person. That kind of performance is a little easier when the people you care about the most are watching you constantly.

I’ll be forty when this second child is born. My father was forty when I was born. He’s still here (we all are, aren’t we!), and whether he meant to or not, he showed me how to be a good person. I hope I can do the same, and for as long, with my sons.

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NEWS
- A much prettier website with my journalistic highlights is at lawrencelanahan.com.
- Disappearing Ink released its first album, "There Is No Time and Nothing's Been," in December 2014. It's available on iTunes.
- After almost five years at WYPR, I'm back to freelancing. Editors can reach me at llanahan@gmail.com.
- The Art of Social Critique: Painting Mirrors of Social Life includes my chapter "New Possibilities and Old Limitations of Political Art in The Wire."
- You can still buy my 2004 self-titled EP.

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