By Ernie McCray
I hadn’t waited with bated breath, in any way, but I was very glad when Monday, April 18th, came my way so I could say “I’m 78.”
For me, turning 78 is special because my grandfather lived to be 78 and living as long as he lived has been a lifelong dream of mine – and I know he wouldn’t mind. I can hear him wisecracking: “Yeah, boy, you might match me in age, but I’m still better looking than you.” Who was better looking was an inside joke between me and him (as neither one of us had much Denzel in us).
78 also means a lot to me for another reason: my twin girls, Tawny, and Nyla, were born in ’78 and I took three years off to hang out with them and their mom (who would have been 69 the 20th of this month). I was the first man in San Diego City Schools to do such a thing. It seemed to me to be, what it turned out to be, the most precious years of my life.
I cashed in all kinds of annuities and dipped deep into some funds that were bequeathed to me, to make that lovely experience a reality. Can’t write about it without a smile on my face.
That was 38 years ago and, based on how it doesn’t seem like so long ago, you truly have to wonder where do the years go. A lifetime seems to zip by because you’re so on the go, just living: riding the ups, the highs, and sinking under the weight of the lows, the downs; sometimes taking care of business, other times just lolly-gagging and farting around; losing some and winning some; acting holier than thou in one moment and sinning like crazy in another; balancing risks with chickening out; always checking things out, trying to figure out what it’s all about…
And then, voila, the calendar indicates that you’re 78 and you get up on that date, feeling not a day over 77, and make your way to the 5th Annual Restoring Respect Conference at USD, where you’re reminded: to embrace the truth no matter what you do; to be, in all that you do, reasonable and kind with an open mind; to listen closely, at all times; to model good citizenship and create the culture you want your children to refine down the line…
And you’re fully in sync with all that’s being said and you reflect on the range of thoughts and ideas raised in the conference as you drive your beautiful sidekick, who was a part of the morning’s activities, and her sister, to her appointment with an oncologist who uses terms like biopsies and surgeries regarding a mass that’s grown on her ovaries – but there are no malignancies which brings about deep sighs of relief and renewed realizations that life is fragile and we have to embrace it delicately and appreciate it passionately…
Oh, it’s a bear having to think that you might lose your squeeze. Been there. So has she. So thankful for this little reprieve.
So, feeling at ease, we later on celebrated my day of birth with Carlos, my son, and my daughter, Tawny, and her little ones, Lyric Allen, and Marley Mandela, with Thai food and peach margaritas and dips in the jacuzzi and laughter and smiles and cake and ice cream. Things that never get old, no matter how old you are, it seems.
When I look back on this day I’ll have to say, to borrow a line from Ice Cube: “it was a good day.”
I mean what can be more inspiring than a day which begins, early in the morning, with conversations centered around building community and advancing civility in a world that seems bent on the opposite?
What can be more reassuring and life affirming than a doctor looking your sweetheart in the eye and pretty much saying “Cancer is not going to end your life anytime soon based on what I see today.”
What can be more of a pleasure than hearing “Happy Birthday, dear Ernie…dad…Grampy” with a little “And many more” thrown in for good measure?
I have to say, though, that my birthday has me greedy for more such days. I want to go at least one up on my dear old granddad so I hope to make it to 79 – then I’ll just concede that he’s better looking and call him “a young whippersnapper,” something he used to call me. Hey, age before beauty is what they say.
But for now I’ll just keep on entertaining lighthearted thoughts and celebrating 78 – as we have to, day by say, appreciate each breath we get to take.