I was born on my birthday six days after my father died. I would be 49.
And lest there be any doubt, I don’t mean born again. I mean born for the first time … on my 49th birthday.
That may seem rather old to be born but, well, that’s how it happened to me.
You see, on that day I received my life. My father surrendered it, gave it over to me. My life became mine to live on that day.
I’m being poetic, of course. What really happened was that, on that day, there was no longer any question in my mind of whose life I was living. I realized, for the first time, that it was undeniably mine.
In fact, it had been mine for quite some time and for the most part I had lived it, but up to that point I’d never really felt as if it were mine. It had always felt borrowed, like something on loan that I’d eventually have to give back, and that it would be carefully inspected, dents and rips noted and, ultimately, approved or disapproved.
On that day, it became mine because on that day I felt it was mine, all mine, that it belonged to no one but me.
I understood deep in my gut that whatever my life had been, is now or was to be, it was mine to do with as I chose. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the three men in that rotten potato were mine to choose from. I could become a murderer, a drunkard, a sodomist. I could be a preacher of God’s wrath, of God’s love, a vehement atheist or anything in between, or in a totally different direction if I wished.
On that day, the rubber band that bound my life to his gave way.
It was no longer his to take back, nor his to judge.
The road ahead is there, and I’m taking the steps to see where it leads.
And I have no idea what I will become.
It was a wonderful day.
Of course, there are limits.
I can’t fly by flapping my arms, I can’t run the four minute mile and I still can’t play the piano very well.
But I could take flying lessons (glider or powered?), I could run marathons (while my knees hold up) and, if I wanted to invest the time, I could learn to play the piano much better (probably jazz).
Because I can choose how I live my own life from here on, every moment of every day is mine to choose. Should I take a shower today, exact murderous vengence on someone who’s done me an injustice, share my time, my love, my self with my now adult children and young grandchildren? Or should I go and listen to an old friend, a rival for my wife’s affections, in the midst of his series of strokes and declining health. Shall I dust, vacuum and mop the house today or go see friends and shoot a Bullseye pistol competition?
It’s mine to choose every moment, every nuance.
And I can, and will, judge the values he and my mother and others gave me and decide which to keep and which to discard.
Work can be good but only insofar as what I am able to do for others through it. That can be money to buy food and shelter, braces for the grandchildren, safety and warmth for my wife, doctors when we’re sick and maybe a sunny beach occasionally when we’re not.
I don’t think my father ever felt this. He never had this freedom passed to him, or he never received it, nor ever took it.
When my sister who is nearest to my age became pregnant in her 18th year, I remember Dad yelling at her, “You’ve made your bed, now sleep in it!”
That’s how he lived his life, too.
He lived with his mistakes.
In that sense, he was a fatalist.
I reject that.
Yes, it’s true that we can’t change the past, but it’s also true that we can do things to minimize, to moderate and sometimes to heal the past.
He was a surgeon. That’s what he did. He fixed things.
Why didn’t he understand that life is not about what happens to us, but rather about how we deal with those events, what we do about, and with, them?
Life is for the living, the moving, the pushing, the shaping, the trying, the giving.
It is always out there ahead.
I put my hands in the stream as it flows, and I change it.
Flow, and change.
Mine to choose.
(A cold beer sounds nice.)