So it’s been about four months off the cigs. I stopped back in November, the same month I turned 55. It wasn’t a conscious thought or motivation, but it is a fact that I had been living for quite sometime with a worry that I would not live to 55. My father died of a heart attack when he was 54. Likewise, his father died of a heart attack at age 54. Both of them smoked cigarettes. (Actually, my father quit cigarettes at age 49 when he had his first heart attack which he barely survived). This idea of sons dying at the same age as their fathers was reinforced when my wife’s father died at 79 …which was the same age as when HIS father died. I didn’t think about this too much…as I had some things going in my favor that my dad did not. First, he was a diabetic. He took a massive shot of insulin every day of his life right at breakfast time. Nowadays, the docs know that’s not how you do it. Much better to take smaller doses periodically during the day to more closely replicate how the pancreas actually functions. But, hell, it was better than no insulin at all! Second, I had started getting anxiety attacks back when I was 48 and approaching my 49 birthday. These took the form of a ‘clenching’ feeling in the chest and a lightheadness…… a feeling of being ‘away from it’. That felt like a damned heart attack. This panicked me and a couple times my heart began to race and I went to the ER. This resulted in a thorough cardiac ‘work up’ and it turned out my heart was just fine. However I did have high cholestrol and blood pressure. So the doc put me on crestor and a bp medication. So in theory I might have avoided the pre-conditions to what killed my pa and grandpa.
No more anxiety attacks. Since I know what it is, it doesn’t happen. Weird? Here’s something weirder. When I had an anxiety and ‘lived through it” the first thing I wanted was a smoke. I knew that I could improve my chances of outliving my father and grandfather if I would quit…. and I tried a couple times. But, each time I failed in the end.
So here I am now. 55 and how does it feel? One thing is weird is knowing that you are older than your own father ever was. Another thing is that emotionally, it feels, somehow more than it ever has that each day is a gift. There is also the recognition of mortality…and beauty and the joys of life. Some part of which was captured in this film:
Presently, my mother is 78 and a half. My siblings and I are involved in adjusting to her stubborn aging. She smokes like a chimney. She is past convincing or caring now.
I took a walk today. It was a beautiful day. I considered my circumstances. How great is my love for my daughter, wife… my family. I can still do all the things I most treasure. (I couldn’t run like I once could but I don’t mind.) I have aches….conditions that come with aging …I am fatter and my hair is both thinner and grayer. My eyes are weaker but I can still read and I have much better books. I have lived to an age of discernment…to know what is and isn’t of value. I am still mystified and amazed by women and their ways.
I went into a familiar coffee shop. I ordered an espresso … as I learned to love many years ago in Italy. I took it outside in the sunlight. I saw a young man in animated conversation with a young woman. He lit a cigarette. I stifled an urge I had to go tell him how silly he looked, so young and hip and healthy …smoking a cigarette. I sipped my coffee and thought about how good it was to be 55 and alive on this glorious March day after so long a winter.