On March 31st, my sister and I took a train from New York to Princeton to visit my old friend. March 31st is always poignant and on this particular day I was reminded again of the importance of living life to the full, embracing all that is good, and appreciating what you have.
Daddy would have been 73 on March 31st, and that, combined with this visit to my friend, reminding me that we have to grab life by the balls, because we never know what’s around the corner.
Eleven years ago, Daddy was 62-years-old, disgustingly fit and healthy, and could easily pass for a man ten years younger. When he retired from playing Gaelic football he took to coaching and in his early 60s he still trained harder than most of his 20-year old charges, ran eight miles three times a week, cycled and played squash. And then cancer struck, suddenly and out of the blue, and a few months after this 63rd birthday, he was dead. (Even four months before he died I couldn’t keep pace with him on the treadmill at the gym). His death left a gaping hole in my life, one that has over the years been gradually infilled with laughter-filled stories and memories. If I can be half the parent to my children that he was to my sister and me, then I’ll have done a decent job. But I digress. The point is, he died too young.
Five years later, Julian’s step-dad also died way too young. His cancer was more prolonged, but no less awful, and he died on the wrong side of 60.
Not knowing what lies around the corner for us or our parents is one of the motivations for setting sail right now. We could be sensible and wait another twenty years, until we’ve put the kids through university and have retired from sensible careers. But we might not live that long, or we might not remain healthy and fit enough to manage a boat. I’m not being maudlin or nihilistic. I’m merely reflecting on the reality that no-one would have picked my dad or Julian’s step-dad out of a line-up when they were 40-years old (i.e. the age we are now) and guessed that they wouldn’t make it another 20-odd years. So now is the time, because we simply can’t wait. I hope Julian’s snoring is still driving me crazy when I’m ninety-five (or maybe I’ll be blessed with deafness), but who knows.
And then there are our three surviving parents. All three 66 years old, hale and hearty, and at least two of them with better social lives than I’ve had since I was at least 25. Long may their good health last.
The visit to my friend in Princeton reminded me of how lucky we and our parents are. One of my friend’s parents, once the booming heart of the family, who years ago welcomed all us strays into the family home like long-lost children, is now in need of round-the-clock care. My friend and the rest of her family have drawn together in a tight circle of love and care. When I last met her parents, twelve years ago, I could not have guessed at this future.
A time may come when our own parents need us and we will not be as footloose to cruise the ocean as we choose. Right now, we have a choice. And we are grateful for that choice. But a time may come – next year, or in ten, twenty, thirty years from now – when one of us is physically unable to live this life, or when one or more of our parents needs us to be closer to home, and then our decisions will no longer be ours to make. We will be driven by other considerations and motivations.
On March 31st the importance of life, health and family were renewed for me. I was reminded not to waste time or emotion on the unimportant stuff, to always show and tell my loved ones how much they are loved, to laugh as often as possible, and to embrace every life-affirming opportunity that fate throws my way.