So our cable has been on the fritz for the last few days. I turned on the television, it said to hold down the power button. So I held down the power button. For a long time.
It was still doing this last night when I went to bed, and to be honest, I expected the kind of battle that occurred between Ralphie’s dad and the furnace from A Christmas Story to commence in eight hours.
Lo and behold, when I woke up this morning, I turned on the television, and eureka! It worked!
My excitement was quickly tempered by the fact that the channel that popped up was playing the last half hour of Meet Joe Black, a movie which infuriates me with its ability to make me blubber. What’s even more irksome is that it’s one of those movies that once I start watching, I can’t stop.
It’s an astounding piece of film making… one of the most beautifully shot works I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it, I will not spoil the three hours you may or may not feel like spending watching it, only to say that Anthony Hopkins’ character, Bill Parrish, is given a finite amount of time when death, himself, visits.
The last half hour of this film always makes me take stock of my own life, makes me look at my own mortality, and to be honest, terrifies me. Having faced death on a few occasions now, I am terrified of dying. It’s not that I think I’m going to Hades or anything, but I’m terrified of actually facing death and thinking, “I’m not finished. There is too much I want to do, want to see, want to share with my family, and want to impart on my children.”
And it seems like the older I get, the more afraid I become. I guess, in a sense, it’s not so much death that I’m afraid of; it’s regret.
I’m about to turn 43 in less than a month, and, especially with my track record, I know that over half my life is behind me. I think about what I have wanted to accomplish over the last few years, with other plans still waiting in the wings, and I’m lately asking myself, a lot, “What am I waiting for?”
It occurred to me that this is my life’s M.O.: chronic procrastination. I was the kid who wrote the fourteen-pager on Thomas Jefferson the night before it was due for my junior year term paper. I’m the guy who leaves for dinner with my parents three minutes after the reservation starts. I’m the husband who always thinks he has twenty-nine minutes more than he actually does, much to the chagrin of my wife, Stephanie. I’m the guy who is hustling my children Sam and Ben out to a 4:30 Tae Kwon Do class at 4:22, yelling, “We’re gonna be late!” Yet, it is entirely up to me when we leave the house.
And the more I thought about it, the more I pissed myself off. There’s almost nothing worse than letting yourself down, which I’ve been doing on a much more frequent basis. I always, always think I can get everything done by the skin of my teeth, and while it’s mostly the case, it gets harder the older I get.
And then out of nowhere, just when I started to invest in my desire to self-flagellate, I gained some perspective from a source that has given me so much good advice for my entire life: my mom. And the odder thing? She gained this perspective from me.
We had family over this weekend for a cookout, and while grilling, my mom told me she had some news.
“We’re going to see Cliff Richard.” For the uninitiated, Cliff Richard has been performing for fifty years, and he’s a huge name everywhere… except America. This coming October, he’s playing his last few dates before retirement, culminating in a ten night run at the Royal Albert Hall in London. This man is on the bucket-list for my mom, who has never seen him live.
“That’s awesome!” I said. “How’d you get tickets?”
“Stubhub UK. Third row.” This woman is such a badass.
“Were you able to get upgraded seats on the flight?” I asked. Because let’s face it, an eight hour flight in coach is hard, even when you don’t have a bad knee and hip.
“No, and I don’t care. I’ve waited fifty years to see him, and I’m not going to miss this.”
My sis-in-law, Courtney, heard the conversation, dumbfounded. “Marie, you’re going to London just for a concert?”
My mom laughed. “Well, we’re going to do other things there, but yes, I guess I am.”
“Your mother is such a badass,” Courtney told me later.
“That’s awesome! I’m so proud of you. What made you go for it?” I asked.
“You, actually.” she said.
“I read your last blog, where you said that it’s good to take a risk, and to say yes to something you would normally say no to. So I’m saying yes to this, and we’re going. I’m not going to wait anymore for anything.”
And with that, my mother turned my words against me. I imagined my life as if the entire thing was condensed into one day, and then I thought about how I’ve lived over half of my day already… taking things with no huge sense of urgency. And if I didn’t amend my lack of strategy, I would fly like a madman to fit in everything I wanted to accomplish.
Yet this is taking a lot for granted. I’m living proof that you never know when your time is up. I never expected to be ejected from a Jeep at 25. I never expected to be diagnosed with Stage-3 cancer at 29. I should have been dead long before now, and now that my time has become more limited with age, the fear of not fitting everything in grows more intense.
It is not the way I want to live anymore. I want to regret nothing.
And while sitting on the bed this morning, sniffling through the last few minutes of Meet Joe Black, my entire reason for wanting to change was crystallized in ten words uttered by Bill Parrish as he knew his life was coming to an end.
“Sixty-five years. Don’t they go by in a blink?”
Yes, yes they do.