In honor of “March Madness,” here are some “-nesses” of my own….
March 2016 is a month full of significant dates for me. As a result, the last week or so has been full of emotion, about both my Peace Corps service and life in general. The most overriding feeling is one of bittersweetness (yet another “-ness”…), which is, I think, both appropriate and ultimately hopeful.
Tuesday was March 15th, the one-year anniversary of my arrival in Albania — the culmination of a laborious, patience-testing 21-month process that was the culmination of my lifelong dream of joining the Peace Corps. March 15th was also my father’s birthday and every year, it saddens me to think about the fact that, thanks to a car accident — and his refusal to wear a seat-belt — he was deprived of many birthdays that he deserved to celebrate. This year had particular resonance because it was (theoretically) his 90th.
This coming week, on March 23rd, I will also celebrate a birthday — my 62nd. Here again, this birthday has particular resonance: my father was 62 years old when he died.
The last time I saw my dad alive was in May 1988. During a weekend visit to my parents’ home outside Philadelphia, we spent a great deal of time talking about my father’s impending retirement. He wasn’t quite sure when to retire and wanted to explore the pros and cons of different scenarios. He also waxed poetic about my parents’ plans for their retirement, which he envisioned as full of travel and activity. Throughout his life, my father never lacked for curiosities and plans and his retirement was going to be the culmination of his dream: to hit the road and see/enjoy what there was to see/enjoy. At the top of his list was a return trip to the Grand Canyon, which he hadn’t seen since the early 1950s, when my parents made a cross-country trip on Route 66.
That August, when my dad died, his 20-something neighbor told me, “He was the youngest old guy I ever met,” and he was right — crotchety old curmudgeon-ness (yet another “-ness”…) was not in his future. He was still the guy who in the mid-1960s, as other parents were breaking and burning their kids’ Beatles albums, introduced us to the Beatles because he wanted to see what all the hoopla was about.
On and off over the 25+ years since my father died, it has been painful for me to think about his dreams-that-never-were. And, it was that sadness that propelled me — on my 59th birthday — not to risk a similar fate and to accelerate my plan to join the Peace Corps rather than wait until after retirement. I decided that joining the Peace Corps would be my 60th birthday present to myself and I was thrilled to arrive in Albania just one week before my 61st birthday.
And now here I am, nearly 62. From this vantage point it’s funny to think about my dad as an “old guy” when I myself don’t feel particularly old. And, it’s difficult not to be spooked by this birthday, which is common I think among those whose parents died before their time.
Mostly though, I realize how right it was for me to throw caution to the wind, sell my house, quit my job and “just do it.” I realize that my later-in-life adventure is a way of honoring my father — of celebrating the legacy he passed to me through both nature and nurture and of fulfilling dreams he wasn’t able to realize on his own. When I think about the many times and many ways he encouraged me to venture into the world and seek my figurative fortune I know he would be proud that I made this happen. And so, ultimately, I am grateful to be celebrating this emotionally charged birthday as a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Albania; it feels fitting.