I’m growing older but not up
My metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck
Let those winds of time blow over my head
I’d rather die while I’m livin’ than live while I’m dead
— Jimmy Buffett
The winds of change have been blowing pretty hard around here of late. Some men of my community who were strong and vital when I met them a quarter century ago are falling sick; some have died. Clan Cornelius just went through the always-wrenching experience of saying goodbye to a beloved canine companion, who ran out of trail at the venerable age of 14. My brother and I are caring for our 92-year-old father — and questioning what, if anything, we want of life when we, too, hit our dotage.
I don’t aim to be morose about any of this. It is natural; it is just… life. So let us celebrate the “Die Living” spirit.
Synchronicity struck earlier this month when I ran across a mini-doc about a 63-year-old buckaroo named Randy Johnson, who is still forking broncs in rodeo competition. That’s right, he’s getting bucked off horses at an age when the ride alone must be churning his insides to butter and rattling his creaky bones.
The very same afternoon, my friend Erik Dolson showed up to tell me about his latest hobby — riding an electric unicycle. That thing is wicked fast and smooth, and you can tell by the shit-eating grin in the photo above that he’s having a good time with it.
Erik, pushing 70, is an accomplished vintage race car driver and a sailor, as well as a writer, real estate developer and political economist. He likes gadgets and wheels, and for whatever reason, he decided it would be fun to try to learn to ride a unicycle. So he did. It ain’t easy, and he confessed that there have been times when he thought he just couldn’t do it. But he can. He does.
Both Johnson and Dolson oughta know better. They oughta recognize that they ain’t young men anymore, that falling down hurts, and .… yeah, no. There’s always a chorus of naysayers, and when a man fails to “act his age” they start into their screeching song. They’ll tell you you’re crazy. Randy Johnson has the correct answer to that accusation:
Another friend of mine, at age 72, has joined the small karate program I’ve been working in for the past decade. It ain’t easy for him. His body is not used to moving in such ways. It’s frustrating. That’s the point. When I started tactical shooting with Sgt. Rullman, I was a good shot, but had had very little experience at shooting-and-moving or running an AR or a semi-auto pistol. It was — still is — a challenge. Sometimes I feel like I’m floundering, like I’ve got two left feet and two fistfuls of thumbs. But I get better every session. Skills build and movements smooth out.
Doing things that challenge us, that we may not be good at right away, that we may fall down doing (more than once) is critical if we want to retain our vitality. Most men stop learning new things — especially things they fear they might suck at — well before middle age. And that’s nothing but a slow death. As Springsteen sings in Racing in the Streets:
Some guys just give up living
Start dying, little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up
And go racing in the streets
Erik fell and bunged up his shoulder. He worked through it. I imagine that Randy Johnson has a shuddersome litany of aches and pains. So what? They should start acting more like old men? Nah. They’re just letting the wind blow over their head — they’d rather die while they’re living than live while they’re dead. Hats off to ’em. Ride on.
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