It was when I was in the 6th grade that I first realized the true finality of death. It was a watershed moment. I imagine you’ve had one of those moments too. You’ve been running the marathon that is life, and something triggers you to jump out of the race and pause; maybe grab a cup of Gatorade, wipe your brow and contemplate things. I remember one of the first times that ever happened to me.
Halfway through 4th grade, a nice couple moved into that vacant white colonial, with the faded red shutters, that sat across my small New Jersey street. They would often come over and hang out with my parents. I was much too young to drink this Budweiser stuff that I would often find around the house afterwards but their laughter would often keep me awake at night. My mother would get to really laughing, that sort of laugh that starts deep within your belly, and I would always want to find out what the joke was because I knew it had to be funny.
A few years after they moved in, they had a beautiful baby girl. To my 6th grade mind, they seemed happy. On the Halloween after she was born, I can still remember our neighbor dressed up as a Budweiser can, smiling and hoisting an open beer can over his head, his daughter sleeping in her stroller beside him. I was sitting at the bottom of our porch steps, my old pillowcase in between my legs piled high with candy, when he saw me and smiled.
“Happy Halloween, Kid.” he said.
As I later found out, he didn’t take very good care of himself. He had heart issues. Sometime, shortly after Halloween, in the early morning hours, he died of a heart attack on his couch, his baby girl asleep in her crib.
For many nights after, I laid in bed and cried. I wasn’t friends with him. We had never sat down, laughed and drank any of that Budweiser stuff together but it was the first time that I truly understood that he wasn’t coming home and what that truly meant. His life was over. No more Halloween costumes. No seeing your daughter grow old. How I viewed life changed a little then. Maybe I even grew up some too.
Last summer, while driving home from work, I felt a tugging and pulling in my upper right chest. I turned the radio up and tried to ignore it. I figured Justin Timberlake could make it go away. Then, I did something you should never do. I Googled my symptoms while at a stop sign. HEART ATTACK, they all said. I panicked. The world went a little fuzzy. I pulled over. Fumbled with my phone. Called 911. Took a nice ride in an ambulance. Chatted with the nice lady who tried to give me an IV.
As it turned out, I was fine. Pinched nerve in my back was acting up. I got a stress test a few weeks later which revealed that my ticker is in excellent shape. All these months later though, the mental YouTube of those events still play in my head. The panic. How life turned into white snow like an offline channel. My sweaty palms and the feeling that I was going down for the count. How I knew that I had much more to do out here on this earth.
I turned 40 last month and spent the majority of the holidays sick. My thoughts since July have been jumbled and confusing. Fears and anxiety. Smiling on the outside but crying out for the mid-life crisis police on the inside. I’m healthy as an ox. I have lots more life left. That’s good.
Temporarily, my marathon has stopped and I’m taking a sip of that Gatorade. What are my plans? This? That? Can I do better? Can I love my wife better? Can I give myself to my kids better? Can I do life better? Yes. Forgive me while I sit here on my porch a little while longer and count my candy.
How about you?
Thanks for stopping by today. Can you be sued by Mr. Craig? Normal programming resumes next week…