I read this column by Tom Purcell in today's edition of Jewish World Review, and it mirrors some of my own thinking at this point in my life. Mr. Purcell reflects on turning 44, whereas I will be 53 in a few weeks, which puts me a bit further along on life's journey, at least from the actuarial standpoint. But middle age is one of the great equalizers in life, as I discovered when I went to my 25-year high-school class reunion back in 1996, when the surviving members of Greenville High School's Class of 1971 were all around 43 years of age. My outstanding impression of that event was that everyone in the class had, by that time, undergone some kind of serious, life-changing adversity, be it a divorce, financial struggles, health problems, wayward children -- or even, in one or two cases, the death of a child. And as little, heretofore-unknown aches and pains set in and establish permanent residence in my body, I, like everyone else who arrives at middle age, spend more time than before reflecting on the fact of my own mortality. Yet another reminder of it came in a different form yesterday, when death suddenly claimed one of our two pet cockatiels, which reminded us as well that even the most adorable of creatures do not live forever. Chances are pretty good that our other two birds will be gone within another couple of years or so; Oochie is now about 8 years old, and Elbie Jaye, the parakeet, about two.
Mr. Purcell makes a good point about the need to look ahead, but that is difficult for me. By nature I tend to be brooding and introspective, and the trail of my life is littered with the residue of foolishness and mistakes a-plenty. And the journey has been just plain difficult, as I have often observed in this blog and elsewhere. I have told several friends lately that I figure about 80 percent of my life just flat-out sucks, what with a chronically ill and severely depressed wife who clearly is never going to get better, a son about to enter (nominal) adulthood beset with plenty of troubles of his own and nowhere close to being ready for the great change in his life, and the knowledge that I have gone just about as far professionally as my abilities and circumstances are going to take me -- which, as I have said, means I am never going to be anyone's poster-boy for worldly success. But I have also decided that the key to maintaining my perspective, as well as my sanity, is to focus on the other 20% of my life, which is actually going very well: my involvement with my church, my array of treasured friendships, and my photography, to mention a few of its bright spots. I take a good deal of solace from the fact that I have a job I enjoy, and which also, by all accounts, I actually do well; better late than never, I say. And there is my marriage, too; in the most difficult of times Sheila and I have faced together, we have always been able to get along exceptionally well, and I am grateful for that. Apart from her health and overall well-being, there isn't much about her that I would really care to change.
Meanwhile, the clock of my life keeps ticking. I recently got another haircut, which I am doing about once every three months now; and every time I have it done, I notice more and more gray among the clippings that fall on my chest and shoulders. I don't really mind that part of it, though, as I figure I have earned my right to every one of those gray hairs. And as sparsely inhabited as my noggin is, I am grateful even to have enough hair that people actually notice the graying!