This coming Saturday, I’ll be celebrating a milestone birthday at the beach with a handful of family members. I promise to practice social distancing while there, something I’ve been practicing at the beach (and everywhere else) for the last 49 years or so.
Yes, I’ll be turning 50 — a bit of a miracle given some close calls with car crashes, kayaking accidents and 20 years of battling our nation’s greedy health care system.
Well, I assume I’ll make it to Saturday. It is 2020, after all, so any day now the super volcano under Yellowstone will erupt (it’s due) at the same time an asteroid hits … probably three inches from my beach chair. For now, though, let’s assume I make it all the way to Saturday.
What amazes me even more than the fact I’ve made it to 50 is when I think of some legendary folks who never made it this far but did so much in their lifetimes. They make me look pretty unaccomplished.
Elvis only lived to the age of 42. It seemed like he must have been around for a hundred years, but the man made music in only three decades — the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. I’ve been writing for newspapers in five decades.
Martin Luther King Jr. was 39 when he was assassinated. I guess it seems like he was older because he was wise beyond his years and because his words still resonate, perhaps now more than ever. He would be 91 years old today and likely would still be marching. He’d certainly have good reason to.
New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive Major League Baseball games, a record that stood for 56 years. “The Iron Horse” died at age 37 due to complications from ALS, a diagnosis he received on his 36th birthday. I’ve yet to play even one consecutive Major League Baseball game.
John Lennon helped give us The Beatles, one of the greatest songs ever written with “Imagine” and became almost synonymous with the peace movement. He did all that before being gunned down at age 40. A few years ago I was able to see his old bandmate Paul McCartney in concert, and he put on an amazing show in his 70s. I doubt Lennon would be touring today, but I sure wonder what he would have to say about the insane world around us right now. I guess I can only imagine.
Alexander the Great was king of the Greeks, built an empire and was considered one of the greatest military leaders in history. He died at 32. I may be Chris the Average, but clearly being Great is not good for longevity.
George Orwell, master of dystopian novels novels like “1984,” was just 46 when he died. His ghost, though, remains active and is currently writing the script for “2020” as we go along this year.
Vincent van Gogh was pretty much considered a failure as an artist before he died at age 37. Only then did his work take off and become some of the most expensive in the world. I have similar hope that my books will sell billions of copies when I’m gone — even if I die with two whole ears.
Of course, there are plenty of folks who died even younger than those folks, and I wonder what they would be doing today. Would Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix still be creating incredible music? Would Jim Morrison have embraced capitalism and have a 20-year residency at a Vegas casino? Would John Belushi be hosting a late night talk show or running a drug rehab center?
Who knows? But I know I’ve outlived all of the aforementioned folks. I may not have a lot of hit records, best-sellers or world conquests in my 50 years, but I’m still ticking. Who knows what the next 50 years have in store? Although, after the way 2020 is going so far, perhaps I’d better take things one day at a time instead of a half-century at a time.
For my birthday, I’m raising money for The Fuller Center for Housing. If you would like to return the gift you bought me and give to a good cause instead, that would make me happy. Here’s the link to my fundraiser: