There was a second part to the email exchange with my Uncle Bob on my 42 birthday. It revolved around a request I made as a young teenager, asking him for the Black Sabbath album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Not being a foolish man, my Uncle correctly surmised that this would not be a gift of which my parents would approve, so he bought me a tackle box instead.
I was bitterly disappointed, and in response behaved rather poorly--so poorly, in fact, that this memory still fills me with shame to this day. So, when my Uncle sent me such a nice birthday greeting, it seemed like as good an opportunity as any to ask for forgiveness. The clock never runs out on these things, you know.
He replied, “I think you have been more successful at being a
fisherman than you were as a rock musician. I suppose I had my part in
determining that outcome. Perhaps if I had bought the Black Sabbath
Album your life would have been wasted on Groupies, World wide travel,
Late night shows, appearances on entertainment tonight and a trip to
the Betty Ford Center. Thinking about that, I am sorry for that nudge
in the straight direction, it the curse of being part of a straight
family. The best to you and your family, Uncle Bob”
It strikes me now that sometimes those around us--and our family in particular--know us better than we know ourselves. And as hard as that gift can be to be received--as little as it is appreciated in the moment--it is, perhaps, one of the very best gifts of all.
Some years ago, I received an email from my Uncle Bob. It said, “If memory serves me correctly today is your birthday -- so
Happy Birthday!! Let's see, probably some number over 40; the best
years. Uncle Bob.”
I responded by asking what, from his perspective, made these years so good. This was his reply: “Age
42 - the best time of your life. You are smarter than you have ever
been and your memory is still intact. You are still strong, not as
strong as 20 years ago, but still able to do a full days work and smart
enough to not do a hard day's work. The kids are still at home and that
is the most important job and exciting job we ever have. The wife is
It's sort of like the commentators for the football games.
'Robbie, this next series of downs are the most important of the game.'
They say it with a profound inflection in their voice. And it is the
most important series because it is NOW! Age 42 - the most important
year of your life.”
Well, today is my 51st birthday. As my Uncle Bob said, I'm not as young as I once was, but then
I'm not as old as I will be, either. So it seems like a pretty good
place to be, all in all.
The kids are no longer home, and that is hard to be sure. We miss them every day, and their absence is perhaps the starkest reminder of all that time is marching on. A new chapter, one undeniably closer to the end of the book than what has gone before, has begun.
But everything else my uncle wrote about 42 is still true at 51, and perhaps even more so. There is still more to do than we will ever have time to do in this life, and at least some of it seems pretty important too. My wife is still pretty, and with age conferring its own special beauty (which makes me wonder why people fight it so), prettier than ever in fact.
I still hear the commentator's voice, and it still has that same profound intonation. Only now it is saying, "Age 51--the most important year of your life!" And I believe it is right.
Have you heard of ODST? Sounds sort of like a mental illness, doesn't it--something out of the DSM IV?
Actually, it stands for Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, and its the newest video game release in Bungie's Halo series. You have heard of Halo, right? ;-)
My younger daughter and I have played every Halo release together so far. In the past, that has meant picking the game up at 12:01 AM--as soon as it was released. We'd go home, play, crash a couple hours, and then take the next day off (her from school, me from work) and play all day long. We'd only stop long enough to make--and eat-- a special chili recipe my daughter found and loves.
This year, of course, she is at college, and ODST released on Tuesday, Sept 22. Having now enjoyed four weekends away at school, we'll bring her home this weekend and--you guessed it--make chili and play ODST. I can't wait!
As you may know, our older daughter is studying abroad this semester. It sounds like she is having the time of her life and really enjoying it. This, of course, makes us very glad.
The other day she sent us an email--actually, I think it was a message on Facebook--saying, "I don't know if I made this clear, but I really want you guys to download Skype." So we did--with a little help from Mason Turner, who is a lot more tech savvy than we are.
Not long after, we were talking with her for the first time since she left. Apparently the internet is really slow where she is, so they are not supposed to use video. That's OK--the audio was enough. And we did use video long enough to let her see Nike (one of our cats).
I do send her letters--yes, the old fashioned hand written things that take forever to write and even long to get to their destination. I send the occasional email, though I keep them brief because who has time to read all the email we get these days? I don't use Facebook too much because I don't want to be a Creepy Facebook Stalker, although the other day I couldn't help but comment that the small version of her current profile pic of a giant cathedral kind of looks like a walrus.
All that said, it sure was good to actually talk to her, to hear her voice and the excitement in it.
What are my younger daughter and I doing? Well, looking for fish, of course. We're on a bridge overlooking a creek, peering into the water in search of trout. We were able to pick out several.
One trout was a little lighter in color. A boy was on the bank who also saw it. He was throwing stones, trying to hit it.
"Why is he doing that?" my daughter asked.
"He's a boy," I said.
Bridges over water always beckon me to pause and consider what might be below. Years ago I was driving a church van and went over a bridge. I couldn't help but try and look over the railing to see if I could see the water. I couldn't, but I did hit the bridge with the van.
At least this time I stopped long enough to get out of the car...