The occasion of a sixty-first birthday should be of relatively small significance. And for just about everyone else in the world, it is. Sixty-one one is an ‘off-year’ birthday—you know, a number with a one, two, three or four at the end. Funny, isn’t it, how we commemorate the heck out of a twenty-first birthday and then forget about the other ‘ones’ forever more.
I fought like hell to get to this milestone, so I want to share the story. And do some celebrating tonight in Wellington, New Zealand, on January 23rd. Technical, it’s a day earlier in America, but when in Rome….
Back in 1995, when my father’s prostate cancer was in remission, I had one of those “visions,’ some inexplicable message delivered to my heart and brain, that my father would only live to the age of eighty—two years more. And that’s exactly what happened. No fluke, I thought.
Consequently, when I had a later ‘vision’ that I would only live to the age of fifty-four, I took that advisory quite seriously. And, in fact, the prediction almost came true. I’ll spare you the details that have already been put into a memoir.
In late 2009, I moved to Boise, Idaho, to start a new life. Sometime within the first year, I had a third ‘vision,’ a warning that I’d never see my sixty-first birthday. Why is that? I wondered. Was I becoming psychic or psycho? Should I really take this seriously? Heck yes, the third time’s the charm, after all.
At that moment, I decided I’d brand the number sixty-one onto my body, something I could see every day—and mock. I wasn’t going to die young! Middle-age men, especially those of us who grew up in the West End of Richmond, Virginia, are not prototypical tattoo owners, but I, an independent, went under the needle. To be cautious, I had it done on my right ankle, in a size that could be covered up by a sock, if necessary.
The year 1961 was a formative one for me. I t was the one and only time I ever saw Yankee baseballer Roger Maris in the flesh. The big boys came to Richmond once a year to play an exhibition game at a venue then called Parker Field against the hometown Virginians, then their AAA farm team. And as that year wore on, and Maris was in striking distance of Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, I developed a man crush on him. Actually, it was a boy crush, that continues today as a man crush. He was the epitome of a head down, play the game, take no individual credit athlete. He endured death threats, media scrutiny and a heap of other craziness that season—and still broke Ruth’s record.
That same year, in a place called Ketchum, Idaho, writer Ernest Hemmingway committed suicide, at the age of sixty-one. That’s sixty-one in 1961. Of course, I hadn’t heard of Hemmingway at that age, nor had I any clue where the state Idaho might be. But fast forward to the year 2010, and Hemingway’s life and death were very much on my mind. It was a very significant irony to me by then. And because ol’ Ernie lived to be sixty-one, not sixty, I knew I could too.
This past spring, I had a bit of a health scare. My ticker started acting wonky and all of a sudden, I became someone at high risk of a stroke. I was a bit scared, I’ll admit. I also had a wedding to attend—my own—in July. I was a bit stressed, I’ll admit that too. But staying on schedule with the wedding turned out to be my salvation. And I thank my cardiologist for his hand in this—he would only attempt to fix my heart after the wedding.
I am grateful and blessed to be alive today and happily partnered to someone who promised to stay married to me for fifty years! The curse has been broken. Sixty-one feels really great. I’m not saying that ‘visions’ aren’t real. They might be. But I certainly don’t want another one. Life is better lived as a mystery.