August 13th - Survivor's Day -
Each year, on the anniversary of my release from the Stem-Cell transplant, I celebrate the fact that I'm still here...that I had the strength to endure the process and survive, that I had the support of an amazing wife, and the help of some pretty incredible technology. To celebrate all that and more, I try to exert myself to illustrate the success of that effort. I usually bike more than 75 miles, and hike more than 10 miles. Add to that a wonderful Survivor's Day feast, and it seems like a fitting way to remember what might have been my demise but was instead made my victory.
It seems like my entire life has been spent waiting for different circumstances before I could "really live". In high school I was unpopular and often bullied. I couldn't wait to leave my home town and go to college where I could finally be me and "really live". In college, I was frequently reminded that this was simply an education and I shouldn't have fun, I should learn for the day I could get a job and then I could "really live". I didn't listen to that advice and played and let my hair down and showed the world the true me- my grades suffered because of it and I left before I could get my degree. Lesson learned..."save the living for later or you'll fail at what you're doing now". Delay the "living" until the right time.
I then joined the military. Many aspects of that life forced me to postpone "really living" and wait until I returned to civilianhood: Very low pay (constant debt), frequent moves, family separation, lack of meaningful career opportunity, the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). Thus, for 10 years, I waited with great anticipation for my discharge.
When I finally left the Air Force, I was revved up and ready to "live". Imagine my disappointment when, after waiting a decade, I discovered that there was little meaningful difference between military and civilian life in terms of being able to enjoy and simply be me: the negative aspects of military life were replaced by seeking to advance a career, a mortgage that hung over us like Damocles' sword, kids that needed food/clothes/toys/education, trying to build an existence out of absolutely nothing. I was forced to wait again until...
I've been waiting now for almost fifty years. Retirement is the next gateway through which I will pass into...what? It seems like every time I waited for the sudden transformation from the tedium of the everyday hum-drum routine of existence & work, I was disappointed when I emerged on the other side; I had to wait even longer for the fun and fulfillment of "Really Living".
What awaits me in retirement? Should I even bother being excited about it, or will I simply be disappointed and feel I must wait for something more to "really live"?!?!
Life on the East Coast-
We left cozy Syracuse for a drive down to Myrtle Beach, SC. On the journey, I discovered something I never realized before: the coast's roads are really CROWDED! Everywhere we traveled, through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North and South Carolina, we encountered over-crowded roads. It seemed that no matter where we went, traffic rubber-banded and we frequently found ourselves stuck in traffic for no apparent reason.
Also, Pennsylvania is able to keep it's place as the state with the poorest roads. Despite having excessive lane closures for "maintenance", their roads are pot-hole filled and very tough to drive. Either you are on the turnpike with a concrete wall for a median, or you have potholes on the edges of the lanes, or both. No matter where you drive on Pennsylvania highways, the roads are in terrible condition.
Aging, Part 2-
While sorting some old paperwork I came across the name of someone I knew 35 years ago. On a whim I searched his name. Sadly, I found his obituary. For the time we spent together, I liked Ozzie a lot. He died at the age of 54. Another tough aspect of getting older is that you will see your contemporaries die off one-by-one.
Every day that you arise from your bed, the odds of you dying today are higher than the day before. live your life to the fullest. Accomplish what you want NOW because the day will come that you don't wake up in the morning.
Forgotten in Death?-
My Father is dead
Without some effort on my and my sister's part, he might easily be forgotten in history.
He was born, lived his life, had a family, served his country (twice), worked his entire life to serve our family and his community and died a quiet death. There are public records of his life: houses he bought, taxes he paid, military, marriage, birth, death...but how will anyone know who he actually was? How he felt about things? His personal contributions, his proud accomplishments, his embarrassments, his failures, his regrets?
Go to any graveyard anywhere. You'll pass hundreds or even thousands of gravestones. Those were people. Each and every one of those people had lives with emotions and stories and accomplishments and deeds good and bad. Those people lived their lives the best they knew how. They were known and loved and hated. Every single stone is a complex and rich story that may well be lost.
Our society elevates athletes, celebrities, politicians, and even criminals to a status where every aspect of their lives and their existence is available for all to see and know. Why is it that the average hard-working people who make truly meaningful contributions to our society die in anonymity? Why are they forgotten to history? Do we really want to memorialize our times based on some of the worst people our era has to offer? I find it very sad that so many good family- and community-minded people have passed that will never be known.
When this realization hit me, I was determined to be known. I bought this web site so that something of who I am would live past me. The world will know I was here and who I was...how I felt about life in general. Even when I'm gone and the site is taken down for non-payment, the Wayback Machine or other such projects should maintain a record of my thoughts, beliefs, musings, projects...who I was. That knowledge comforts me here in the final third of my existence...if nothing else, knowledge of me will live on long after I've left.
Will the world know who you were?
My hearing has been terrible since a bout of pneumonia when I was 17. Ever since I have had trouble pulling intelligence from conversation. I often found myself asking people to repeat themselves or asking them to speak louder or change their wording. It was a minor annoyance. I sought medical help a couple of times but was told that my hearing was fine and there was nothing they could do.
Now in my 50s, I tried yet again. It was becoming a bit more than just an annoyance. It was harming my marriage and my career. The previous testing I did was only 5 years ago, but a family friend who happens to be an audiologist convinced me that the technology of hearing aids has improved massively over the past few years. Off I go to audiologist #1.
Two things happened at my audiology appointment: she found an actual hearing problem (I have a >50dB+ loss at 6KHz and higher in both ears...caused by heavy NSAID use...bad knees) and she mentioned that directionality and noise reduction could in fact, help my intelligibility issues. Sadly, the quoted price tag was well beyond my willingness to pay.
I still returned a couple of weeks later to demo a pair. I might have been willing to spend "way too much" if they were amazingly better. They weren't phenomenal, but I noticed an improvement enough to make me want them. When I returned them, the audiologist made the mistake of telling me she'd looked into my insurance and her business was "out of network".
I hadn't involved my insurer because in the many times I'd enrolled with them they had never mentioned a hearing aid benefit. I immediately contacted them to find they offered excellent coverage, but I would have to go to their audiologist. I hated giving up the first audiologist, her customer service was outstanding, but the cost savings by going with my insurance was huge!
Since the testing had been done by audiologist #1, and I had done extensive research into the many options I wanted & needed in a pair of hearing aids, the appointment with audiologist #2 was almost perfunctory. I had 3 top choices. He strongly recommended against one of them, and I demoed the other 2. I made my choice within 10 minutes of walking in the office.
They arrived a week later, and after a quick 20 minute appointment to program them and set up some options to my preferences, I left with my new ears.
In the past 3 weeks that I've been wearing them, I've noticed several scenarios where I heard every word spoken to me; situations that would have been quite tough without the hearing aids: walking side-by-side in a shopping mall, talking in a large open (echoing) restaurant, picking a conversation out of 3 different in a crowded meeting.
If only the technology had existed decades ago, I could have saved myself a lifetime of poor hearing. I can say with great conviction, "Hearing Aids are Awesome!!".
Within the past year, I've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, and my relatively controlled diabetes has suddenly exploded. Add to that a brand-new pair of hearing aids and knees in need of replacement. The thoughts of my remaining years have swung toward this being the beginning of the end. It sure feels like my body is quickly degrading out from under me. On a recent visit to my oncologist, he mentioned that I was quite young to be talking like I'm nearing my demise. I told him that I'd "...thoroughly used my body" and it seemed to be failing me now. When I was younger it seemed like I could do anything and it had no affect on my health. Even if I hurt myself in an activity, it quickly healed and I was back doing it again and again. Now, it seems like it takes much longer to heal and in some cases, I simply don't heal. Some of the old "hard living" is causing problems now. It's catching up to me. Hopefully I'm just having a tough time coping with a new reality, because otherwise, the 25 years I'd believed I had left may be closer to 10.
While this realization surprises me, it doesn't scare or depress me: I've lived the best life I could. I've thoroughly enjoyed every experience I tried. I heard the advice of others but didn't always follow it; I followed my own path, my own inner voice. I have no regrets except I won't get as much of the quiet, fun time as I'd hoped in retirement. Whatever. I played hard and lived hard. I knew going in that it could reduce the quantity of life, my quality of life has more than compensated for it.
Live your life as you want, hard and quick, soft and long, or whatever is in between. Take doctor's advice or not. Make your choice and enjoy what you end up with.
Until next time.