Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Better With Age

The beauty of memory not being completely gone is that once in a while it gives you a little nostalgia. My dog turned 10 a few days ago and we did some special treats and activities and I got out a photo album. I got her way back in the day when digital photography was relatively new and I still had an old fashioned film camera so it was kind of nice to be able to touch those pictures.

It was comforting/disturbing to see pictures of her aging if nothing else to remember our adventures. She was an occasional running partner when she was younger and logged in quite a few miles by my side. Mostly we go on walks now but not nearly enough and not like the ones we had when she was first born. Her name is “Puppy” because she was the bastard dog of a stray that lived across the way when I was volunteering in the Marshall Islands in the South  Pacific and she kept showing up on my porch and I’d throw a treat down the ways to  “get the puppy out of here.” Clearly I’m well trained in how to get dogs to not like you. While we walk around a neighborhood or park now and then now, back then we used to walk along the ocean… And when it was time to leave, I had to bring her home with me and we had to get customs rules to be able to bring her back from the South Pacific to Texas. And here, we’ve settled into a house that was bought partly because it already had a doggy door installed and not too long ago I put a doggy “window” into the fence so that she can look out when she’s home alone.

But as I started looking through those pictures… well I looked through another photo album and another… and another. I realized it had been a little over 10 years since I graduated college, more than 15 since I graduated high school. I saw a picture of me the only time I grew my hair out… and one look at that will tell you why I keep it so short. I saw my face with less wrinkles, with no scar of cancer. I remembered something that I’d completely forgotten, how my running career began. I’ve ran since I can remember but the first time I was put in a race was in 3rd grade. I kept getting in trouble for running in the hall in Kermit’s Elementary, Purple Sage. Teachers warned me multiple times that this was against the rules and I listened so well that a few weeks later I got “spanked” three times. Shortly after that I got put on the track team. (I don’t know what your thoughts are on corporal punishment period or in school but let’s just say that another set of licks would come in Jr. High for running in the call and somehow I got lucky enough in high school that my classes were all outside and there was no “hall” to get in trouble for running.)

When I had that hair, what a friend kindly described as an animal attacking my head, it was when I had the privilege of attending a college in Napa Valley, Pacific Union College. Raised in a family of teetotalers, I somehow managed a full academic scholarship to 4 years in wine country (if you want another theory as to why I have cancer, there was a group of friends that stole some wine grapes and tried to ferment our own wine, a felony in that part of the world, and the deal was that all had to drink some of it… let’s just say it’s not my favorite wine memory but I drank what I said I would). One of the sayings I learned in college was a less than humble friend who would say he was like the fine wine, he’d just keep getting better with age (is that less than humble or more than humble?).

Perhaps there are many  more things that get better with age than I realize but generally speaking time makes our cars, our haircuts, our furniture, our well being less than what it used to be ( There are friends who have tried to comfort me in that some of the brain functions that have given way in my brain would have gotten worse with age anyway (how that’s supposed to be comfort I am not sure since I can’t imagine being excited about having all of my hairs gray tomorrow or the wrinkles being further set in). I still do lumosity regularly and while my score is not at its highest point, it’s still higher than it was after brain surgery. And I’ve started facing some fears. One of my issues is aphasia, an inability to come up with some basic words. I used to love playing scattegories because I was pretty good at it but after the surgery I was horrible at it. For the first time in over two years, I took it out this week and played. And while I wasn’t what I used to be, it really did feel like I’d made some progress.

 And I still focus on running for the simple reality that it is a place where reward and effort have some correlation (had a fun and killer track workout last night). And I also have gotten to go back to little moments of fun that used to be taken for granted like after not having played for almost 8 months, I played ultimate Frisbee twice in two weeks. I miss both the game and the community but it mostly happens on weekends and evenings which is when my primary duty of being a dad occurs. But it was kind of flattering to beat kids a decade younger than me (I am going to focus on that and keep ignoring when the kids were skying me or outrunning me). And the next day I went and had lunch with Kiana who asked when our next race was, when her next race was, and when we were having ice cream next; turns out the apple still hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.

But even there I know that I can’t keep my speed forever. There’s a reason in ultimate, age 33 (how old I am!) is considered master’s age and in running master’s is 40’s. In both athletic endeavors, they get their own separate division. There’s a reason most Ph’D’s and a gigantic percentage of research and innovative ideas are done or at least started by people younger than me (invariably someone with tons of optimism will point at the exceptions to all this and that’s fine, go be exceptional, I’m okay with a lot of the ordinary stuff of humanity and think that if we just give it some extra time, there’s a beauty to getting some extra ordinary). I try to blame this old age as the reason that when I tried to go dancing Saturday night I sounded like my grandpa (“what’s happened with music these days? When I used to go out a few years ago, we had music and lyrics, now it’s just a loud techno beat that gives you a headache?!”). There’s a reason at a party where all I did was chat and talk to people that I thought it was a great party (as opposed to a decade ago when that kind of party would have sucked, how did they not have a cool card/yard/drinking game). It’s not that you didn’t talk to people at those parties; it’s that wasn’t enough to make something into a “cool party.”

I am still going to another run tonight and I’ll be trying to tear up the hill workout tomorrow. I return to Beaumont in a week and a half where since only half the team is going (Kiana is with her mom that weekend), I’m only going to do the half and then hand out medals. You better believe I’m going to race but I’m going more than anything to say thank you to that community. Because to me that matters more than my speed.

Because that is and always will be the part of my life that never stopped getting better with age. I actually have a special bottle of wine saved up for I don’t know what and another one to give to Kiana when she turns to 21. Maybe fine wine does get better with age and some parts of the body do not. But relationships can and have. And if there’s anything that cancer changed on me, it wasn’t running as an outlet, or my hopes or fears, those were intensified but not changed. It was just a simple awareness that relationships, no matter how natural the connection, just as natural as running is to me, get better and more enjoyable and more meaningful by putting in more effort and signing up for meaningful events together. The smartest thing I’ve ever said wasn’t in my college honors thesis; it was in that Livestrong video ( ) “you have to work on the relationships you want to keep.” In music styles, dancing approaches, athletic achievements, how one parties, an aging body and mind may make it more difficult to hold. But for me, it takes a cursory glance around humanity, to realize that the meaning of life is connection, that the friends that have stayed together for decades, the couples that celebrate anniversary (not acknowledge them, celebrate them), the parent who recognizes that it is much cooler to be equals as adults with their children. That is my biggest hope as a parent, that there will come a day where I’m still standing and I’m no longer raising a child but seeing an adult making all decision for herself, good or bad, but hopefully great. I see her put together her backpack and perhaps in that nostalgic music mode, I start singing

I watch her grow 
She'll learn much more than I'll ever know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world”

I hope that in someways the meaningful relationships of my life will in their own way outlive me because while I hope it’s years away, I know it will do it with my dog (isn’t that what a president said, if you want a true friend, get a dog). So even as I sat in nostalgia some of the last few days, and even though on each one of her birthdays I somewhat dream that will be the age Kiana somehow is forever, I am grateful that time keeps passing with me living in it. If nothing else, it beats the alternative. An old graying dog and a young growing kid sure give you perspective. And I hope that the relationships I’m creating with her and all meaningful people are something that we bottle up like that fine wine. If you live in Napa Valley you learn that some of it is natural organics, some of it is good years and bad years, but even with all that, this is done carefully with effort and with intelligence and effort and time and effort. While nothing lasts forever, I want to keep treating memories, relationships and connections like fine wine so they will keep getting better with age. 

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