Last Man Standing
I hadn’t given this too much thought before now, but recent events have brought to my attention the possibility I may become the “last man standing,” at least in my tight little circle of friends and family.
Upon making a mental survey of my family, for beginners, I’m somewhat shocked at the realization that they’re nearly all gone now. I lost my last sibling, my baby sister, earlier this year. The others all passed at various intervals during the last ten years or so. Two of my four children are now gone, taken far too young by circumstances beyond their control, and most other cousins, aunts and uncles have disappeared over the horizon as well. I’m holding fast to my remaining two children, and praying that they aren’t choking on the tight grip of my embrace.
I used to send several dozen Christmas cards/letters to friends around the country, and it was always a treat to read their own greetings in return. So what if I always had to initiate the process; they were friends and I loved them all. These days my card list has shrunk so much that I can whip out all my cards in a couple of hours. I never have been one to send a “brag letter” that recited all our accomplishments of the year. I always wanted to focus my greetings on each individual friend. I guess that was my way of giving presents, as I figured that the cards I received in return contained priceless gems of communication between those dear people and myself.
My gift list, as well, has been reduced to a few select gift cards, in addition to the chests of silverware and other heirlooms that I’m trying to pass along to the family young ones who are just starting out on their own. Even at that, they all seem to have taken care of their basics in advance of actual need, so I’m having to turn to worthwhile charities to distribute these possessions to my “worldwide family.”
But I still have lots of friends in the area, at church or in social settings, who are as close as a phone call, if not a regular visit. These friends comprise the major part of the human companionship I crave, and in which I must indulge myself at regular times. These are the people I love most in the world, and all for their own special reasons. They give of their time unstintingly, they share their daily family happenings when we’re together, and maybe most gratifying of all, they seem to enjoy my company, my sarcastic sense of humor, my stories of bygone eras during which I “ruled the skies in my birds of treen.” They’re concerned enough to text me if I haven’t been at the group’s favorite watering hole for a few days. In short, they make me feel like I’m a necessary part of their lives, which is more gratifying to me than any accomplishment, any award or decoration I have received in my “brief” time on the planet.
That’s why it’s so disconcerting when I find out that one of my friends has fallen. I don’t count the elderly folks who populate my retirement center. No, these people, like myself, are expected to “fly west” at any time, which is just a fact of our mortality. No, I get genuinely upset when one of my younger friends checks out or is diagnosed with a potentially life-shortening illness. It eats at my brain to know that I could outlive the friends I consider to be in the prime of their lives. In turn, they look at me and wonder, not always silently or reflectively, why the hell I’m still standing while their generation seems to have been selected for “thinning out.” It’s beginning to make me feel uncomfortable. Not guilty, mind you, but I’m wondering what I’m constructed of, that is making me resistant while others are falling around me. Hell, I haven’t had COVID or even the flu in quite some time.
What can I do to help my younger friends to understand what has been driving me all these years to stay healthy? It’s really very simple, if just a little quirky. See, I was the fat, clumsy kid who seemed to have no physical ability at all. But as I grew and the fat melted away, I found that I could run. Not particularly fast, but I could hang in there. So I turned to cross-county running. I even tried boxing for a while. I played tennis avidly, and engaged competitively in all kinds of “court” sports. When I thought my endurance was lagging, I reverted to running again, and for the next forty years I competed in races of all distances, then in triathlons, and finally, when the knees objected too much, I took up bicycle racing. It was a busy, but highly enjoyable lifestyle, and it lasted until just ten years ago, when high cholesterol (go figure) finally necessitated coronary artery replacements. Basically, that’s it. I wasn’t particularly looking for longevity goals, but rather for self-esteem. Unconsciously I wanted to feel better about myself, and this was the way I chose to do it. The residual effects of all those years of hard training have given me a lease on those extra years, at least that’s the way I see it.
But you, my dearest friends, I can’t foist my old lifestyle on you or make you develop health habits that haven’t already been priorities in your lives. I can just answer your “Why me, and not you” questions with those simple stories. I hate it when you falter, and I still want to be whatever kind of role model I can. That would be the greatest gift I could give you this Christmas, because I sure don’t want to be the Last Man Standing.
Ghe Ghost of Fitness Past
George is an American Bad Ass. He grew up in Jersey, flew B-52s in Vietnam, taught English, Spanish and other languages to children around the world, makes his own salsa, has been known to enjoy a beer or two and has called Lubbock home for a few years, just to entertain the locals. Welcome to Raiderland, Major. We are going to feature some of his writings going forward. Some new, some old. Some rhyme, some don’t. When it comes to George, there’s no box. So… enjoy our friend and enjoy his writings! – Hyatt