I don’t like to get too personal on Capitol Commentary – must be the WASP in me – but this year’s birthday is, for me, the most significant of my life.
Beginning last year I began to “feel my mortality” as the saying goes. And I can trace it directly back to one moment in time and that was the death, at age 39, of the star of the show Spartacus, Andy Whitfield. He passed away from Cancer on September 11, 2011.
I wrote about his death in the article Thoughts on Spartacus’ Andy Whitfield: We’re Running Out of Time:
They say you first feel your mortality when a parent dies then when someone from your generation becomes president. For me, it was this man’s death.
By your 30s, one hopes, you have established yourself in a career and are starting the third chapter of your life: raising a family and enjoying the “good years” after having grown up and struggled in your 20s.
Mr. Whitfield was just getting a taste of that life.
Apparently, his last words to his children were:
I am going to go to sleep now as my body won’t work any more. I am like a butterfly with broken wings.
I remember watching him star in Spartacus. The guy was cut. He was in amazing physical shape. He didn’t look to be in his late-30s and I have never been in that kind of shape even when I lived in Paris and walked 4 miles every day and weighed 185 pounds.
So I’d watch his athletic feats and took comfort that a guy “my age” could out-compete people half his.
His death really shook me. Lymphoma was a silent killer and, since that time, a cousin and my fiancée’s friend came down with it.
I began wanting to tie up loose ends and began – again – to work on my second book – Lost Time – and immersed myself in a body of work I began crafting over 14 years ago. I saw myself in those pages but it was someone who is no longer alive for I am no longer that person… I am older now.
It gave me chills.
Then Steve Jobs died. Living in San Francisco – so close to Apple HQ – the news was even more than 24/7. He was 56 … a mere 18 years older than I. In an attempt to understand his passing I wrote the article titled Why It’s Okay You’re Not Steve Jobs:
For all these things I am very grateful.
Mr. Jobs really did help me.
But for all he did for me (and everybody else) in the end it’s more about what he’s allowed me to do than me not being a superstar like he was.
Here’s what Steve Jobs had to say about living (and dying):
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
Jobs died of Pancreatic Cancer (ironically, the creator of the Macintosh computer, Jef Raskin, also died of the same Cancer).
I read up on Pancreatic Cancer and learned smoking was a main contributor towards it.
I smoked… a bad habit I had acquired in college.
Wrestling with this sudden realization that, at age 38, who knew what was going on in my body, I read that Christopher Hitchens died of Cancer.
He and I shared similar philosophical beliefs.
He was 62 – 24 years older than I which put my date with fate at 2136.
That was December 15, 2011.
I haven’t smoked since.
Quitting something I never should have started – smoking – was the first real sign that I was feeling my mortality. After all, youth smokes because it assumes there is all the time in the world to stop and doesn’t think about it.
I could now clearly see an end date and so I stopped.
It wasn’t hard to not smoke – I’d quit before – and I feel better, but not in the way that I can fun the 100 yard dash… that I took control of something in my life.
I am engaged but have no children. Naturally I began that comparison to my parents’ ages when I was born then adding 20 years to see how old I’d be when my kid(s) left home and – maybe – graduated from college.
I didn’t like the feeling of being in my 60s.
I picked up – and began listening again – to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
It tears me apart every time I listen to it.
And I’m left with those words Jim Morrison once spoke about this type of behavior:
There are images I need to complete my own reality.
The song Time goes like this:
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
And you are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
In high school death was an abstract notion – something far away that other people dealt with. I wanted time to pass more quickly so that I would turn 16 and drive or 18 to vote… or 21 to drink. I always wanted the next phase of my life to begin… leave elementary school for junior high or for high school or for college or for whatever the next milestone was.
I have been very lucky (thus far) in life. I’ve never had a cavity, braces, broken a bone, had surgery, been put under anesthetic, had anything more serious than the flu (once). I don’t have any allergies, suffered no ill effects from suffocating in a fire and being resuscitated by a fireman, being broadsided by a car and sent into a coma, or having someone run a red light and strike my car knocking me briefly unconscious as my head slammed into the door pillar.
So I’m very fortunate to have such good health. I have no gray hair and, indeed, still have plenty of hair left.
But this past year… this birthday… this final 365 days of my thirties…
I hope to look back in 40 years and laugh tears of joy.
Joy that I lived another 40 years but tears that, at age 79, my life will soon end.
Here is a song which I’ve been listening to quite a lot lately… if you want to skip the clocks and such forward to about the 2 minute mark (see you for another year, I hope):
On another note… congratulations to Larry at Political Realities for the birth of a grandchild.
That whole circle of life thing!