When 68 Seems “Too Young”
When did 68 become "too young?" I still drive as I did when I was a teenager --- windows open, music blaring. I'm a little self-conscious, of course, with my grey hair and beard and all . . . but not much. A great thing that comes with being 68 is --- you pretty much don't give a flying fuck what anyone else thinks!
One of my high school classmates recently passed away and someone on Facebook wrote that Roy was “way too young.” 68 & "too young.” He died on March 10th, according to the obituary I saw, and had turned 68 in December. I don’t know if he was married, or had kids, or a “partner” (there is no mention of any of that in the “survived by” at the end of the obit), but I’m sure (from what I later saw in Facebook photos) there are many people who have felt a great loss on a daily basis since March 10th.
I hadn't seen him in years (my recollection is that our last encounter was way back in 2000, at a Reunion for several Bay Shore High classes). Roy was a thoughtful, intelligent guy. We had played together on a great football team our senior year --- and had been teammates in football and basketball since we were freshmen, though we were never “buddy-buddy.” He played guard on offense and in the defensive line as well. As the quarterback, I relied on his “intel” (along with our brilliant end, Gil) to unlock our opponent’s defenses. Walking back to the huddle between those gentle giants I would get a “total” picture of the defensive line and backfield, play by play, so that I could pick apart whomever we were playing. It was great fun, kind of a physical chess game that we three had mastered. Roy was a Captain of that team and an All-League player to boot. And, despite the years that have passed and the almost total lack of contact, there is a genuine sense of loss --- and 68 is, indeed, “too young.”
There’s a big dose of nostalgia in that, of course, remembering the countless hours of practice, the literal blood and sweat, and the incredible sense of accomplishment --- as a team --- that we all reveled in that Senior year, playing on that undefeated team. It was one of those wonderful, rare moments that a sport can provide its athletes, where the collective toil, the shared sacrifice, and the total commitment to “the team” is greater than any one player and transcends all else. Only the players on that team know exactly what I’m talking about --- and Roy was our Captain.
So, yes, 68 does seem “too young.” I have lost other (and far closer) friends already and it is devastating. Each of these tiny little cuts that takes someone away from us for good forces a grim reality into the room. Each time I note the loss of someone I think about something my father told me on his 60th birthday. When I asked him what it was like to “turn 60,” he (a man of few, few words) said something to this affect: “I thought 40 was going to be a big deal, but 40 came and went --- we were busy. And then everyone else made a big deal about 50, but that really wasn’t much, either. But 60 . . . 60 makes you realize that you have less time left than what you’ve already spent . . .” and he kind of trailed off. My father died a few weeks shy of turning 74 --- not too far from the “average” (white) male life span in 2000 (which was 74.9). When I turned sixty I thought of Dad's statement. In 2017, the average (white) male lifespan is 76.71 (but it’s 78.93 in Connecticut, where I live --- yet only 76.28 in Pennsylvania, where Roy lived) --- so, by some measure, 68 might still be considered “young.”
“Young” or not, it is that cavernous loss those of us who are still here feel. There is a renewed emptiness that makes each death a stunning “comeuppance” every time it confronts us. I’ve never been one to look over my shoulder for that Reaper guy --- I feel like I’m on some borrowed time (given some "bad choices" in earlier days) as it is. The loss of others, though, is what becomes the lengthening shadow we all can see. What this particular loss makes me consider, like it or not, is that this is the beginning of that chapter of our Baby Boomer story. As these next years unravel, the signposts won’t just be the passing of celebrities we grew up with --- the Leonard Cohens, Mose Allisons, Leon Russells, David Bowies, et al --- but the folks we really grew up with. So, appreciate all those people around you and let them know your feelings (particularly if they are of fondness or love) and fasten your seat belts for this last dip of our roller coaster ride. As my literary hero Dr. Hunter S. Thompson liked to say: “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”