Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reflections on a life well lived

WARNING: Contains indulgent self-reflection, may not be suitable for children and the infirm.

I'm still waiting for the, "Oh crap, I'm 50 years old!" thing to kick in, but not yet. For so long I thought of 50 as being old, but of course the more I approached this milestone the less it felt that way. As the first among my high school and college friends to reach 50, I thought I'd try to reflect on it a bit. It is natural to be self-reflective at a point like this, isn't it?

One of my goals for some time has been to reach this milestone without ever having been admitted to or treated in a hospital. Yes, it may seem like somewhat of a silly aspiration, given that I could get hit by a truck (or lorry, as we say here) and die on the spot without ever being in a hospital ("straight to the morgue for you, mate"). But as I have aged, and never did have to be treated in a hospital, I liked the idea of achieving this goal. Sort of like when my father used to brag that he had 25 years of perfect attendance at Rotary meetings, meaning that he attended a meeting every week - no matter where he was in the world - for 25 years. It wasn't that he was such a dedicated Rotarian, but it was more a sign that he was able to maintain his health all those years.

And I too have been able to maintain my health for 50 years well enough that I have not needed hospitalization. Except, of course, when I was born 50 years ago yesterday in Mt. Sinai Hospital in Hartford, CT. Since leaving the hospital for our home in Madison, I have not returned. Not to an ER or even to an outpatient facility at a hospital. I will admit to occasionally visiting the lab at a hospital for a blood draw, and to some minor procedures in my doctor's office. But no "ER," "Chicago Hope," or "General Hospital" for me.

I ponder this a lot when I think about what some close friends, who are around my age or even younger, have endured. My best friend, who had an appendectomy in a French hospital while studying in Paris during college (just like in the original Madeline book - "appendicite!"). And then some 20 or so years later donated a kidney to his mother. Or four friends, including one barely more than half my age, who have endured breast cancer and the resulting surgeries and treatment, in the last few years. Or. . . . . .well, you get the idea.

Having achieved this goal, I realize, is a function of both nature and nurture. I have been extremely fortunate to have not suffered any of the odds-beating events that lead one to incur a disease or suffer an injury through no fault of one's own. I must come with pretty good genes also, with a grandmother who, although born in the old country, lived to the ripe old age of 99. And parents who are both well into their 80s and chugging along, albeit one a bit slower getting around than the other.

I do take some steps to try to head off anything that would cause me to have to visit a hospital for my own treatment. I won't pretend to be the best (read: healthiest) eater out there, but I am fairly prudent about things like an annual check-up with my doctor, regular visits to the dentist, and other preventive measures. And most of my leisure activities certainly don't fall into the high-risk category. I've never been sky diving, bungee jumping, mountain climbing, downhill skiing, or swum the English Channel. Though those well versed in probability theory will tell me that I have a much better chance of causing a trip to a hospital (or "a trip to hospital" in Brit speak) by crossing Upper Street near the Angel Tube station during rush hour.

So having obtained some satisfaction from achieving this goal, what does this tell me about my life? Upon reflection, I'd say I've lived a damned good life. I've been fortunate enough to have had supportive family and friends throughout, people who were there for me throughout my endeavors (even though some choices I made were proven to be mistakes, but people supported me nevertheless). I've been able to learn from my mistakes, an ability that I will fully admit has gotten me out of some pretty tight spots in life. I've managed to have a lot of fun, in many different ways, something that Anne and I have managed to have as a priority in our lives. We've created and helped nurture two wonderful daughters, who I am confident will go on to live fulfilling lives of their own. And I'd like to think that, at least every now and then, I've helped some other people along the way, so that I haven't been entirely self-indulgent.

Reaching my 50th birthday? It feels damn good right now. And as is too often said, it sure as hell beats the alternative.


Next time, the work stuff: How has higher education changed during my lifetime?


  1. Perhaps we all should take a minute to be as reflective as you have been...and not just on the occasion of our 50th birthday! What a great perspective on such an important event!