Sunday, April 3, 2016

You’re Never Too Old

I have previously written about the joy of hitting my middle forties, and what a joy it is. My latest ailment is “Plantar Fasciitis”, which is best defined as an aching in your foot/heel lower leg when you wake up and turns into HOLY FUCK I CAN’T WALK WITHOUT FEELING LIKE I HAVE SEWING MACHINE STITCHING MY FEET AS I MOVE. The irony and insanity of the situation is that this affliction stems from me taking better care of myself by running semi-regularly, which has resulted in some sizable weight loss. So apparently I can be skinny and never walk again or chubby and be able to run, hop and jump like fuck all over the place; fantastic Sophie’s Choice there.

Getting older certainly presents its physical challenges, but that doesn’t mean it prevents us from taking risks and engaging in activities-both mental and physical-that we haven’t found time to begin in the past. Routinely I will hear people around me say, “Oh I am too old for that!” or “Can you believe they did that…at THEIR age?”, and I understand it’s a common reaction to scenarios like a ninety year old man skydiving or a senior citizen taking up auto racing or my mom talking about sexual positions but the fear or resistance to participating in anything based on one’s age is lunacy. 

Why?

Science.

OK maybe there’s no actual science to what I’m saying other than that humans are living longer than we ever have. However, whenever you want to shut someone up in an argument it’s best to say, “because science, duh” or something to that effect because few people understand science and will just clam up when they hear that, in fear they may end up over their heads. In truth it has little to do with science and more to do with life itself.
Life is finite, as we know, and a decent chunk of it is spent on childhood first of course-a time when risk aversion is almost nil-and we are willing to dive into almost anything head first. When I was nine I let a neighborhood kid put me into a shopping cart and push me down a 30% grade hill, wearing no helmet, padding or protective gear, and at the end of the line when I hit the curbing and was tossed ten feet into the air and tumbled across the bumpy earth all I could think about was when it would be my turn again. Sometime around that same age myself and another friend took apart an electronic car racing set and hooked the wires and “trigger” mechanism that make the cars go up to a huge battery and then plugged in the primary power source to an outlet in his garage. We wanted to see if we could “blow up” the battery. Incredibly it only shorted out and aside from a bit of a scare and mild fireworks neither one of us ended up with 72 virgins. Children are reckless, insane, fearless fuckheads with a death wish-that’s understood. However as we get older we tend to become more conservative and begin to understand the concept of “consequence” so we become more risk averse and take less chances. This behavior isn’t just contained in the physical realm but extends to relationships, financial endeavors and even social behaviors. But why, exactly?

Fear. It’s always about fear.

When we’re young we seldom comprehend the consequences of our actions and that enables an environment of bravado that rarely extends to later life. Certainly there are exceptions among us-including myself-who will still dive head first into swamp to chase a three foot Snapping Turtle just for fun, but with age comes wisdom and the years we spend living this life teach us valuable lessons about the ramifications of foolish action. So we dial things back, take fewer chances, engage in less risky behavior and begin the process of letting fear guide our lives instead of that screaming hellion who lives in our soul and cries out to us to do a backflip off the deck into the swimming pool for absolutely no reason. We should be listening to “Fuckit”, as I call him, more and not less.

I could write a piece about the thousands of individuals whose risky choices and behaviors led to some of the greatest discoveries on this planet, and helped pave the way for innovation, industry, iconic businesses and most of us would nod our heads and say “Hmm, that’s true,” yet still continue living our lives the way we do until we die. I could tell tales of brave souls who risked their lives saving others in fiery buildings or raging waters and most of us would get the chills and admire their bravery yet we’d go to work Monday to a job we hate and still let that annoying coworker annoy the shit out of us. We know the benefits of taking risk, the reward of being brave, yet we so often choose the safety of the familiar and comfort of routine, foolishly. When I was eleven years old I was living in South Windsor, CT and I had a crush on a girl named Vikki Green. She was a dirty blonde, adorable, always smiling Aphrodite to my lanky, clown footed, red-afro sporting Ronald McDonald. When I saw her at my first school dance, radiating in the glow of a cascade of colored lights reflecting off a giant disco ball and shaking her hips to “Just What I needed” by the Cars, I felt like I had been injected with the blood of an early 80’s Ralph Macchio. I smiled at her and moved in for the behavioral version of the crane kick – asking her to dance. Incredibly she said yes, and those three and a half minutes I was moving around the floor with her, hands on her hips, eyes locked in stare, lasted what seemed to be an entire evening. Had I allowed my fears to dictate my choices that night I would have stayed on the sidelines with the chubby kid in glasses wearing a “Space Invaders” shirt and not had what was probably one of my best boners ever.

In the interest of journalistic fairness I will mention that my courage may have lead me to take too large a leap the following school day. I approached Vikki in the hall and, drunk on the power of having had her in my arms for less than four minutes, asked her if she would “go out” with me. She actually took a couple steps back, looked me up and down, turned to one of her 11 year old hot chick friend minions she kept in tow and then said “Umm, no. Sorry,” and then laughed and walked away. Apparently our brief romantic moment under the refracted rainbow lighting was just a charity move of some sort, and now I had to live with the scars of being rejected in front of a dozen or so kids in middle school. There were no cell phones or Snapchat or Facebook back then but it didn’t matter because by the afternoon the whole school knew the story, and just like a good game of Operator it had morphed into “She actually spit on him and then he started crying and ran into the nurse’s office! I think he killed himself!!!” So did Vikki’s annihilation of me in the halls have a major impact on me and my life going forward?

Absolutely.

I started asking out every girl that would even look at me. I asked out nine and half’s when I was still barely a four. I told any girl I was interested in immediately and without filters how I felt and you know, a lot of times I was lit up like downtown Baghdad circa 2003 but sometimes I wasn’t…and I had girlfriends from an age and at a time in my physical development where anyone looking in would have serious questions. I put my balls out there-not literally until several years later-because I chose to have that traumatic event empower me instead of destroy me; I wasn’t about to let fear be the divining rod in my life.
This piece wasn’t supposed to be about my ability to fool chicks into thinking I was actually a catch but rather our resistance to engage in new things as we get older, so let me try to bring this all together. “The greatest risk is the one not taken”. Simple, poignant and very accurate. If we spend our lives worrying only about the potentially negative outcome of a choice then we risk more than had we just take the leap from the start. In how many films and great works of literature have we watched the protagonist or supporting characters talk of regret for having not taken action on endeavors they had long planned to? Have we ever witnessed someone we admire-real or imagined-who spoke on their deathbed of “being happy I played it safe all my life?”.  Wow, sounds great.

It doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are, how big your family is, how famous you are, how much wealth you’ve accumulated, how much talent you have or what you do for a living-your life will end at some point and you’ll be remembered for your actions. Hopefully your life will end after you’ve had some time to reflect on your previous ninety plus years and as you do that, alone or with those you love around you, I believe you’d want it to be filled with as little regret as possible, no? If this is the only go around we get, this body, this mind, this soul, these friends and family and these experiences, why not dive into anything and everything you have ever dreamed of headfirst and fear not the consequence of failure.

Get in the car and drive across the country, take the kids if you have them, they will love it and so will you despite the smell and bickering about using the iPad. Go take the college course on Ancient Civilizations you’ve always wanted to, the actual class, sitting in a chair and not online. Talk to the person next to you and speak in front of the class and ask any and every question that comes to mind. Start writing that book you have always had in the back of your mind but never put into actual words. Write an hour a day every day-make the time as we all have the same twenty-four hours in a day- and keep writing even on those days you feel like it’s all shit. Go apologize to that person you hurt and that you know may not want to hear from you. Then go back again and again and make sure they know it’s sincere. Do it for you but mostly for them as they likely need it more. If you’re unhappy in that relationship, go. Leave, and do it respectfully if they have treated you with respect but just go. Life is not over when you’re middle aged or a senior citizen or anywhere in between and starting over can be scary but it’s also empowering. Quit that dead end job and start your own company finally. That voice has been in your head for years, begging you, pleading, and screaming at times. Answer it and stop making excuses. Get the fuck off the couch and stop feeling sorry for yourself and get healthy. It’s not your kids, your job, your family, your lover or your “genes” that are keeping you from taking care of yourself, it’s YOU. It’s hard work but it can be done and has been by lesser people than yourself so just make it happen. Get on that plane and fly to Whereverthefuck, USA or Cantfinditonamap, Earth and stop letting your fear of being 30,000 feet in the air dictate how much of the world you see. When it’s your time it will be your time but better to have laid eyes on all those places you’ve dreamed about rather than the same thirty mile radius from your house it’s been the last thirty years.

And go ask out your own Vikki Green. Start with a text or email or call if you must but then walk right up to him/her and tell them exactly why you can’t get them out of your head and what you feel. Yes, it may result in being eviscerated on the spot, possibly a restraining order or even a kick to a strategic body part but you’ll be a stronger person for having taking the risk. I can promise you the closure that comes from taking the chance will pay far more dividends than the anticipated comfort from having never made the move at all.
You’re not too old, so get off your ass and do something you’ve always wanted to. Your future self will thank you.


-DAA

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