Triathlete to Teacher -Turning 50: An Essay

On my 50th birthday I was mowing our back lawn and musing about how to celebrate this supposed “milestone”. I felt culturally required to  have copious amounts of friends and family gather around me, embarrassing me with their  stories and raising their proverbial champagne glasses in song. I spontaneously mowed an enormous “50” into the grass and sent a picture of it to my twin brother Paul. I decided then that over the next year I would try 50 things I had never done before and that each would be athletic, adventurous, creative or philanthropic in nature. I started by running an exhausting four mile military style obstacle course race. We slogged through knee deep mud, crawled under fake barbed wire, dragged sandbags and lugged 10 gallon buckets of rocks up steep hills.

I spent three solo days in Mexico City, got an hilarious blue spiked mohawk and to top it all off, made my first ever duct tape wallet with my 8 year old pearl of a daughter. I would never have predicted the joyful and yet excruciating love I could feel for another person. I can see the woman in her slowly emerging as I sneak a peek at her sleeping face. I relish in our wrestling matches. She wins every time.

Recently my beautiful wife slipped into our sunroom where I had fallen asleep on the couch. She cuddled me, told me she loved me, kissed my cheek and left as quietly as she had arrived. I settled back into a light sleep. Within an hour, however my 14 year-old self was yanking me back in time and I found myself balanced on the edge of the bathtub attempting to scrutinize the backs of my thighs in the mirror. My wife loves every inch of me and I’m working on doing the same for myself.

Now I’m almost 52. My thighs are sagging as if they’ve nearly given up, my hair is going white and I haven’t worn my karate belt, a pair of cleats or a caving headlamp in years. So why I do I still get pimples and prefer Legos over a working lawnmower? It’s because I’m not really 52 at all. I’m nine, riding my used red bike around the schoolyard with my best friend, fantasizing about becoming a spear-wielding tribal warrior someday and wishing I was a boy.

I was grateful and happy back then, in a way that a nine year-old could be. My kind and gracious father made it home safely after a slow and harrowing month in the hospital. There was school, and camp one summer, a weekly allowance and shoveling snow to feed my candy habit, and friends to play with. Not to mention my twin brother Paul, one of my best friends to this day.

Right now we are all struggling to escape a global forest fire, lit by a single match and with no clear outcome. There’s no school, no summer camp, and no chatty trips to the corner store with my daughter for a rainbow popsicle. But there is still resplendent gratitude. Gratitude for family, community, health, work and shelter. And yes, even for my droopy thighs because they still help carry me around and don’t look too bad after all.

If my personal journey were a river it would branch off into a thousand wandering streams. One paper boat would sail off to the world of tap dance, where I ruined the polished floors of my childhood home, another to science and medicine, where I gently bumped face shields with a cardiothoracic surgeon while he allowed me to witness a heart transplant. Another would find international travel and photography, and finally the last, teaching.

It’s good to be home.

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