Half a life ago, when I was 30, I wasn’t even contemplating life after 33. I had that age fixed in my head as the age I was going to live to. Don’t ask me why, I guess it had a lot to do with the way I was living my life at the time, maybe a little with being brought up Catholic, but I was fixated on that age.
But yesterday I reached the first day of my seventh decade. Scary.
My son was born when I was 33, the only thing of real importance that happened that year.
My dad lived till he was 97, and my grandmother, his mom was 103 when she died; so I have some good genes on my side.
My mother, on the other hand died when I was 23 at the age of 54. I’ve outlived my own mother by six years.
I was talking to my friend Kristine on the phone yesterday, she’d called to wish me a happy birthday and she asked me how old I felt.
“In my head I still feel like I’m 16, but then I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and go: Whoa!” Then I went on to say that I wish I knew what I knew now when I was 20, life wouldn’t have been such a daunting enterprise.
Kristine went on to tell me that’s what life is all about, learning the hard way.
And I have learned the hard way, being the stubborn person that I am, repeating the same behavior over and over again expecting different results until I metaphorically collapsed from hitting my head against the same brick wall.
I am lucky, and I realize that now. I tempted fate in the worse way possible for a long time; when 33 came along and I was still alive I almost thought I was invincible, but there were times I just wanted to quit, say I’ve had enough, I can’t take it anymore. Life sucks and it’s unfair and why do all of these bad things keep happening to me.
But life went on, and eventually I found myself at a crossroads, I was forced to make a change in the way I was living. I had to take responsibility for my actions and myself and stop blaming others for my problems. This was 14 or so years ago, and it was like starting life anew.
A lot of people get that chance, few opt to go for the change and discover what they are capable of. I consider myself very fortunate to have reached the lowest point of despair that I was willing to listen to someone other than myself for a change.
I owe a great debt of gratitude to a lot of people, some who have come and gone into my life for the briefest of seconds, others that I reconnected with (thinks to modern social media) and others, like my brother Luis and my son Javier who were always there.
It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight; change was gradual and grudging; but I took the right steps and talked to the right people and I find myself where I am today, happy with myself and the way I am living.
I have a friend who I met 14 years ago, and she’s fond of saying I looked “rough,” and now I have people saying I don’t look 60.
Physically I feel 80 sometimes, like Leonard Cohen says in the Tower Of Song, “I ache in the places that I used to play,” and there’s no getting around that. But I don’t let it throw me. I’m a great believer in the “use it or lose it” school of thought, and I keep up with both my physical and mental well being.
I have never felt so alive, so excited about what is to come, and I have learned to work through my fears and doubts. It isn’t easy, but the other choice, which is to give up and hide in my own head is no longer viable now that I’ve learned some stuff.
I got some gifts yesterday, mostly candy and a nice dinner from my lovely wife, but her niece Kasia gave me the best gift of all. It is a copy of Reader’s Digest from August 1954, the month and year I was born.
One of the biggest influences on the way I write comes from Reader’s Digest. As a child my mother knew a couple of Spanish men who owned a Spanish bookstore somewhere on West 14th Street and every time we visited the store they would give me a bundle of magazines to read, my mother told them I liked to read; and my favorite was the Reader’s Digest.
I read many condensed books in it, and the one feature I loved the most was The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Met. I learned how to write about other people by reading that, and I also learned that there are people who can teach me stuff if I have an open mind and pay attention.
Most of my life I only paid attention to myself, but I am lucky enough to have a good memory and I can remember things that people said and did that didn’t make sense to me then but do now. So thank you Kasia, for a gift you had no idea would be important to me.
I think I owe my biggest debt of gratitude to my wife, the lovely Danusia. She has helped me to be a kinder, more tolerant person, not just to those around me, but also to myself.
Today I planted an avocado seed, I used to do that when I was a kid but I would lose interest and they would die. I would say this one has a better chance of survival. After I patted down the soil my hands were dirty, and I wanted to take a picture of the seedling. The cat was conveniently close and I was able to wipe my hands on her. She thought I was petting her so she didn’t mind.
I am glad to be sixty today.