At The Halfway Mark…

Monday, January 3rd, 2005, 2:14 pm

Today is my 36th birthday, meaning that, according to life expectancy tables, I’m about halfway through my life. I think for US males the current expectancy is 74 years, but I think it might be a bit lower for someone my age (things are skewing upward as the years go by). The idea that I’ve reached the summit of my days on this Earth and are now heading down the slope to eternal oblivion has thrown me into a mild existential panic. Actually, I’ve been panicking off and on for the last year or so. When I turned 35 I realized that I was now as close to 50 as I was to 20, which got me hyperventilating into a paper bag for a few minutes.

Of course I might live longer than 72. Of course, I might get hit by a bus on the way home from work. There’s an episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer hears something that the average male lives to be 76 or something, and he suddenly stops his car in the middle of the highway and staggers across the road, sobbing, “I’m only guaranteed 38 more years of life!” as hurtling cars swerve around him and crash against the guardrails. Yeah, that’s me.

The recent disaster in the Indian Ocean brings into sharper focus both the fragility and resiliency of life. You might wake up one morning, find blue skies overhead and birds chirping merrily on the branch, and have no idea that THIS is the day that crane operator drops that air conditioning unit while you’re waiting at the red light 15 stories below. The fact that death can come for you at any time, without warning, is of course a fact we try not to think about, else we be paralyzed with fear. Life, as they say, goes on, and since the vast majority of people go day after day after day after day after day WITHOUT dying suddenly and unexpectedly, we can tell ourselves, with reason, that it will never happen to us.

It’s just a bit harder to believe it on your 36th birthday. Tomorrow I’ll probably be fine, but last night, watching the clock flip toward 2AM, I couldn’t stop thinking about my own mortality, and what the future holds. Having a birthday so close to New Year’s Day gives added weight to the ‘ol “What are your resolutions?” questions you get asked this time of year. Not only is it a new year on the calendar, it’s another year gone in your life. What have you done? What have you accomplished? What WILL you do? What will happen? Will anything happen, and will it be good or bad?

I was never one of those kids who felt he was invulnerable. You hear that from soldiers, from race car drivers, from star athletes, that maybe someone ELSE might be killed or horribly injured, but it could never happen to THEM. But of course it CAN happen to them, they’re just fortunate enough that youth or bravado or whatever is handy helps block that unpleasant fact from their minds. I’ve never had that gift, in part because it’s just part of my nature to look at the horrible and scary and grotesque in the world and think it’s sort-of fascinating. And in part because my uncle was killed in Vietnam and, well, I know that terrible things can and do happen to the best of us. Whatever sense of invulnerabilty you might feel is merely a facade, and ignores the indifference and capriciousness of Fate. As the earthquake and tsunamis so violently demonstrated last week.

Man, is this a depressing post. Happy Birthday to me, indeed! I actually don’t feel depressed–actually, I have an upset stomach, I think the bagel I ate this morning may have been a bit weevily. But with the holidays over, the start of the new year, and my birthday coming (as they always have) one after another, I tend to get a bit reflective. I don’t feel 36. I don’t feel any different than I did when I was 22. No, I take that back, bigtime– I feel a lot smarter than I was back then, a lot wiser, and definitely more comfortable with myself. What I fear about getting older is that I won’t be able to generate the same enthusiasm for life, that the intensity of feeling and emotion will slowly dwindle from a boil, to a simmer, and then to stillness.

That, I can honestly say, is NOT a problem. I think I feel more alive now than I ever have. Heck, I’ll prove that point tonight when we kick off our new volleyball season. I’ll be diving on the court, blasting spikes, screaming at myself when I screw up, and be pissed when we (probably) lose. Afterwards I’ll go to the bar with my friends and eat one wing too many, drink one beer too many, and go to bed much too late. My Steelers are gearing up for a Super Bowl run and I’m as giddy about that as I was during their dynasty years. I’ve had a difficult few years on the job front (to put it mildly), but I find I can still muster hope that things will turn my way. And maybe, just maybe, this is the year I actually spend writing a novel instead of, oh, cranking out 150,000 words about what I don’t know about poker. Well, perhaps I can do both this year.

Well, that was cathartic. I don’t think I’m a self-centered or narcissistic person, so I hope you’ll forgive such a self-indulgent meltdown on these pages. Hey, maybe I just had my mid-life crisis, right here, right now! Be a lot cheaper than buying a Harley and dating a stripper named Shasta. Though not as much fun…

Enough navel-gazing, especially at MY navel. We celebrated another birthday recently, a gentle man who preached that we should love thy neighbor, and do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves. So to atone for all this me-me-me-ism, which is certainly inappropriate under the circumstances, I direct you to the PokerStars Tsunami Relief page, where you can make a donation to the aid those who suffered through that catastrophe.

Non-psycho posts forthcoming. Well, mild-psycho.

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7 Responses to “At The Halfway Mark…”

  1. Mark Rauterkus Says:

    Happy Birthday!

  2. StudioGlyphic Says:

    Happy Birthday, Gene.

    That wasn’t self-indulgent or psycho at all. And hell, even if it were, it’s your birthday, damn it. We’re all entitled to moments of mania/depression.

    Personally I thought it was a post worth writing and reading. I always appreciate your perspective on everything, poker or not-poker, and it’s good to remind ourselves that the runner-runner suckouts (A3o?!) are so insignificant in the greater scheme of things.

    Oh, and as for your life expectancy, I expect that advances in medicine will probably give us an extra twenty years on the back-end, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Just watch out for those falling A/C units.

  3. Maudie Says:

    Ok. I’m not going to lecture you as it looks like that by the end of your post you figured it out. I’m 53 years and and eight months of age and there are those who call *me* middle aged. Which may not be too far off as I had a grandmother who died at 102 or 103. My Dad, at 88, is still with us and has a mind and memory that puts me to shame.

    “What I fear about getting older is that I won’t be able to generate the same enthusiasm for life, that the intensity of feeling and emotion will slowly dwindle from a boil, to a simmer, and then to stillness.”

    Not if you don’t let it! *Never* stop seeking knowledge or learning new things – this is what keeps me fueled and causes me to forget that I am 53 years and eight months old. Don’t get me wrong – I love the years I’ve lived because it allows me to say things like “I’ve lived longer than you and know more than you do, so shut up!” But the years I’ve lived have little to do with how old I feel – and that, right now, is somewhere between 18 and 35 – lol.

    Happy 36th – I have no doubt you will have many, many, many more wonderfully vibrant birthdays ahead of you. You are at a GREAT age – and it will only get better, trust me….. 8^)

  4. Dr. Pauly Says:

    Happy Birthday!

  5. Human Head Says:

    It’s your blog and you can be psycho if you want to…

    However, that was not nearly a psycho or narcissistic post. I’ll begin to worry about your psychosis only if you start talking of puppies catching beat downs. Until then, keep up the wonderful blog and Happy Birthday!

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Tough post to say anything about; However ……. ::))

    Like many I have been through 2.5 yrs of Viet Nam, done many strange things, have 19K flight hours in all kinds of landscape and weather.

    The pot still simmers; life is still pretty nice; folks are still onery/smelly/good; my dog still loves me — at least at chow time.

    A joke/saying comes to mind; When rape is inevitable, lay back and enjoy it.

    Many more to you; enjoy you posts. Keep ’em coming.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Happy Birthday!

    ChiefBigtoke

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