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When 39 Could Be the Last Year of Your Life

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While mired this week in the 15 inches of snow covering the -45 degree wind-chill zone we took to calling #Chiberia (formerly Chicago), I began to consider my age.

I have one year left to me before the gruesome milestone of 40, where I must make my peace with god and actively prepare for the end.

Or not.

Yep, I'm 39.

So, with all due respect to Allison Slater Tate, here is my 39 at the start of 2014.

You keep the car running sometimes at your destination, yes, but not to wrap-up some nostalgic classic rock song which can be played on demand from 10,000 different devices and platforms (Spotify!), but to listen to the last minutes of an audiobook on double or triple speed. You must learn as much as possible in the short time you have.

You know, though, that you know nothing. Almost.

You know that you have no plans to try the lesion-producing drug krokadil/crocodile, a mix of codeine, gas, red phosphorous and other things you never want to put in your body. When the sales pitch is "it'll give you lesions and digestives problems, and you'll be dead in a year." Well then, let's never sign up.

You think often about regular exercise.

You know many people completely uninterested in training, cross-fit or extended race training, and those who do -- when they do those activities in earnest -- seem less like people in a mid-life crises than people who earnestly want to prolong the usefulness of their bodies. Yes, there are fads and there are the faddish, and this is a strange world where we pay to use machines to move our bodies, but when your biggest workout is tapping the keys of a computer, you'll keep an open mind.

You know what not to drink.

You might consume three cups of coffee each day, but you have no plans to drink the chemical-delivery system called "Diet Coke." Why? Diet Coke's ingredients are carbonated water, aspartame, aspartic acid, phenylalanine, methanol (wood alcohol), formaldehyde, formic acid, potassium benzoate, benzene, phosphoric acid, citric acid, caffeine, caramel color and "natural flavors." By what unholy definition is this ever considered this an actual food item?

You've been married for almost 15 years.

Divorce, while often sad for the families you know or the children involved, seems no more novel to you than not getting divorced would have 100 years ago. It's no more grown-up for those involved than anything else, because you long ago learned that relationships take real and constant work and that not everyone should be together.

You aren't scared.

Divorce doesn't feel random, but real. There's as much reason to be terrified of other couple's divorces as there is to be terrified of the sun running out of energy. Sure, your relationship may one day lose all of its heat, but there's every reason to stay confident in its so-far-all-encompassing brightness. So long as you both work to keep in the light.

You always need more time.

Your 6- and 7-year old daughters interrupt you over and over again when you are writing something (um, this article). They want you to help them with their iMovie trailer they are making on the negative 40-degree day. Your role is to appear in a group superhero shot, wearing a blanket cape.

You must live in their world.

You put on the cape and prance around their room, because you know that when your life is measured, if it ever will be, your children will most likely take its most accurate measure. Your writing, your art, is unlikely to survive you, but your children will grow into improved adults -- better able to cope with the complex conditions of living -- with your guidance and time and love.

And again, still, you know that you know nothing.

You know less about yourself than you ever have before, and that's the best lesson of all.

Sure, you know some things with absolute clarity. You never need to hear Pink Floyd's "The Wall" in its entirety again, and, well, see above on Diet Coke.

You reject the old adage that you learn more about yourself as you get older. Not only is it boring to believe a collection of largely arbitrary habits and preferences have collaborated to make you into "you," but also, in this way, whatever makes "you" is really as shaky as Britney Spears' signing voice.

How do I know this? From my father.

Yes, my 39 is a world where my dad is an eight-year brain cancer survivor who, as I have written in earlier posts, is almost nothing like his pre-cancer self. He watches television all day on 24-hour news cycle repeat. He struggles through layers of aphasia to find common words that fly from him faster than the speed of his memories. He is lucky to be alive, but he exists as a Bizarro-world copy of the person who once had his body.

His 59, eight years ago, was the lesson is the lesson of complete transformation.

And so my 39 is the realization that life may turn me into someone else, and at any moment become a stranger to those that I love.

My 39 learns from the past, but knows that the past can be changed and erased and overwritten without so much as a sentimental look back.

My 39 knows that in this way the future leaves everything to chance.

My 39 won't worry about what has come before or what may come one day soon, as much as it will live now, the only way it can, in each moment.

My 39 will live as it may never live again, and in the brilliant light of those whose lives I am lucky enough to share, I wouldn't want it any other way.

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