You’d think six decades of trampling this earth would teach a soul a thing or two, wouldn’t you?
Life has a way of leading you on, with its tractor beam pulling you forward as you stumble over the peaks and valleys, leaving some impressions along the way. Like running through a briar patch, it’s impossible to come out the other side unscathed. And as I sit in the living room of our stunning bed and breakfast in Lima, Peru, with the sounds of mourning doves, hens and peacocks filling the early morning air, I can’t help but be reflective.
Today I turn 60, or, as some of my kind-hearted friends have suggested, 20, with 40 years of experience.
My buddy Chuck once called me “the world’s oldest adolescent.” There’s an insult in that assessment, as I am certain he intended, but it also suggests a measure of wide-eyed enthusiasm about the wonders of the world and what’s coming next. I am guilty as charged, and I accept the challenge. I may be older, but I am also wiser, made all the more so by the gifts bestowed upon me by those I care about: my daughters, family and friends, colleagues present and former, and by my indefatigably positive, beautiful (in every imaginable way) and generous wife, Gabi.
Being an odd combination of incurable romantic and chafing curmudgeon, I’m struck by some of my evolving realities brought on by all these years:
The first sip of coffee in the morning is much more gratifying than the first sip of beer on a hot day. I travel with a jar of instant coffee to ensure that each day starts properly, and I have developed considerable skills to find hot water at 6 a.m. in some of the world’s trickiest places.
Mornings, once my time to rehearse my command of the day, to plot, plan, organize and strategize the business of life and, well, business, is now my time of peace, calm and reflection. Often, I write, as I am now, an outpouring of thoughts, ideas and emotions in a linear exchange from brain to fingers. Thank God I took typing classes in high school. Thanks, mom, for pushing me into it.
I get more pleasure from a cheap meal with my wife in a dodgy restaurant somewhere in the world, served by people whose language I don’t speak, than I do in a five-star Michelin joint serving works of art dressed up by unpronounceable sauces. If I had a nickel for every time we’ve lamented being far away from the Chinese Noodle House in Phnom Penh, with its signature pork filled vegetarian deep fried dumplings, $1 mee cha banlai (stir fried noodles with vegetables) and typical lunch bill of $5, I’d be able to buy lunch for a week.
I’ve become more of my father, unwilling to suffer fools and incapable of hiding my contempt for injustice, unfairness and stupidity. He was better at holding his tongue, but excelled at the art of non-verbal thrashings. I am amazed by his wisdom, how much he passed along to me without saying much at all, and how stupid I was to not appreciate him more while he was around.
I’ve become more of my mom, too, whose giving heart filled her soul as helium does a balloon, and made her nearly as buoyant. I should be as good, kind and giving.
Nothing, and I mean nothing in this entire world, can compare to the profound sense of satisfaction you get from seeing your children thrive, excel and prosper. I’ve long given up trying to restrain myself from bragging, and I’ll be damned if I’ll stop now. If I bore or annoy you, get over it or just unfriend me on Facebook. And hey, at least I’m not posting photos of my new barbecue or spreading the prophecy of Fox News reports.
Grand parenting is all it’s cracked up to be. My grandson came along not even two months ago, and now I am beside myself with obsessing about his future, welfare and well-being. If karmic influence carries any weight in this world, this child is going to fly.
With the perspective of living overseas for nearly five years under my belt, I’m able to assess my beloved U S of A in a new light. Flawed, blustery, entitled and a bit bruised in terms of public persona, she is still the best in the world, admirable and worthwhile. Perhaps a bit less honorable than I’d like, but nonetheless the single most admired, revered and looked up to nation on this earth. I’ve seen it, heard it and felt it countless times around the world.
Family is everything, as my mom loved to intone. But I’ve learned that it need not be enjoyed in saturated, perpetual doses. Our whistle stop tours to the US, UK and elsewhere to visit family keep the home fires burning just fine, and I am eternally grateful to be able to visit family and occasionally bring them to us. I miss the little things, of course (see above comment about grand parenting), but thanks to email, Skype, Facebook and the like, I feel a helluva lot closer to the action than I am.
Becoming a non-consumer is purifying and emancipating. We buy, sure, but stuff like toothbrushes, clothes when something tears or we need a warmer shirt, and loads of airline, bus and train tickets. Not buying stuff means we shake our heads over the inanity that is Black Friday, and remind ourselves that experiences, not new furniture, make us feel comfy and warm. As one of the guys we interviewed for our upcoming book told us, “I never stopped really living until I stopped consuming.”
Not having a TV means I’m going to defy the conventional image of an old guy sitting in front of endless episodes of MASH reruns and sporting events. But ESPN.com and the fascinating technology of Gamecast helped me watch the Red Sox win their latest World Series while I was sitting in a café in Baisha, China, and I religiously monitor the mounting losses by my beloved Syracuse University football squad and wins by the Orange hoop teams from some of the world’s most remote locations. I never, ever, miss at least part of a Patriots game.
Come to think of it, the Pats play this afternoon. Gotta make sure I’m either near an international sports bar or am able to log on and watch online.
Naps matter, and I’m as committed to my daily siesta as I am to breakfast, lunch and dinner. And you know how I love food. You can interrupt a conversation, a meal, or our travels, but if you break into my naptime you’re treading on very thin ice.
Enough from me, for now. There’s an awakening world to evaluate and appreciate, in my wide-eyed, 60-year-old adolescent way. And I’m so glad you’re all in it with me.