When I was a young man I used go to a local karate school in hopes of becoming a fearless killer.
Our sensei was a stocky Italian-American man who would routinely ream us out for being so pathetically out of shape.
“I am fifty-five years old,” he roared at us one night, “and I can do this!”
I was about 20 at the time and I remember thinking, fifty-five? God, that’s so old! I can't imagine being 55!
Well, as of today, I’m fifty-five years old. The karate school, which had been located over an old bingo hall, is now a New York Sports Club and I still go there.
I never did earn that black belt, and I'm no fearless killer, but I feel like I deserve some kind of award for making it this far. I know a number of people who didn’t, so I am extremely thankful that I’m still around.
“This is my special day,” I thought as I walked to get my bus this morning.
I had planned to write about how I haven’t reached a lot of my goals or seen many of my dreams come true, but then it occurred to me that I say that every day of the week.
It’s my birthday, damn it, and the best thing I can do for myself is to take a break for all this self-imposed misery.
I think about all the birthday parties my mother put together for me and my siblings when we were kids. She didn’t hire any clowns or rent out a McDonald’s—she did it all by herself and she did it in our house.
Back then, birthdays were such incredible events; or at least my mother made it feel that way.
Later on in life she did gently warn me about the “birthday blues,” when you realize that the world really isn’t grinding to a halt just because you happened to have been born on a particular day. I wish she could be here with me today.
Wednesday is usually my church day, but I’m still feeling a little under the weather, so I watched the lunchtime service at Trinity Church on the Internet.
It’s not the same as being there, of course—you can’t receive Communion or shake hands for the Sign of Peace—but you can still learn some valuable lessons.
Don't Be Hatin'
Rev. Mark was in fine form, encouraging us to write a list of positive things in our lives. This wouldn’t be a collection of grievances and complaints, he said, but rather, it would be “a love letter to the world.”
“Anger and hate will never change any situation or person for the good,” he said.
As someone who has wasted a whole lot of time, energy and brain cells on anger and hate, I can attest to that.
He told us to respond to the difficulties in life with love and “if you don’t have love in your heart, then pray for the desire to be loving.”
“Love always defeats evil,” Rev. Mark said, “life is always stronger than death.”
If I had actually been in church I would’ve hugged the guy.
With yet another birthday under my belt and my aunt’s recent passing, I’ve been thinking about my own demise.
Yesterday I was looking at myself in the mirror and, as I prepared for my morning shave, I thought of my last day. I tried to imagine just not existing anymore and I have to be honest—it scared the hell out of me.
I try to be a good Christian and believe in life everlasting, but I felt the fear overtaking me. I actually walked away from the mirror just to get my head back together.
I calmed down after a few moments. I realized that this world existed for a long time before I ever showed up and it will continue to do so long after I’m gone.
I have no control over that, but I can control how I react to whatever life has in store for me. I can use the love in my heart to defeat evil.
Yes, this is my special day, but I realize, now that I’m fifty-five years old, that every day you’re alive is a special day.
So treat every new morning like a gift and when you write that love letter to the world, make sure you send a copy to yourself.