Today is my birthday.

The calendar says I’m 70 years alive on this earth ( I refuse to say “70 years OLD!”) but I am having  trouble for the first time in my life accepting that – well, I guess I have to accept it, but “believing it” – that’s a different story.  Seriously, leading up to this date, its been heavy on my mind and no birthday I can recall has ever been a concern or big deal before.  This is different, and it’s something about that milestone “70” that is making it different.

Eighteen years ago the doctors told me “Mr. Gleason, your heart is failing and without a transplant you have less than two years to live.”  I didn’t feel scared or excited about that, after all at that point I had lived a very successful and fulfilled life and long ago accepted that once born we are going to die “someday” and while I didn’t want to rush it just then (Sept 1994), it wasn’t as scary as you might expect that to be.  A heart transplant was an option, even if, as the social worker explained, “Mr. Gleason, this isn’t a black and white decision – we don’t know that your quality of life will be after a heart transplant.”  Well as those of you who know me, this “cookie monster” always sees things as being positive, so it was a quick and easy decision for me to say yes, I choose to live.

Arriving home Oct '94 post heart transplant

Arriving home Oct ’94 post heart transplant

Long story short, now almost 19 years later, that ‘quality of life’ has turned out to be very positive, with a busy and very fulfilled life finishing up a corporate career for the next dozen or so years, opting to retire in 2005 with plenty of life left to live and as so many young retirees often report, working harder in retirement with a freedom of choice to work without pay in causes I am very passionate about, giving it “all my heart” for many years now, never looking back.  Recently in sharing positive a transplant life can be presenting to a group of cardiac nurses, the head of that heart program asked “So Mr. Gleason, looking back on your heart experience these past almost two decades, what would you like to see different?”  After careful reflection I responded, “Absolutely nothing!”  I have no regrets and live each day to its fullest, each accepted as a gift of life for that day with a prayer of thanks for living God’s plan in love and service that day.

My choice for today: sitting by the river

Years later, choosing to relax by the river

Maybe it’s all those Facebook “Happy Birthday, Jim!” postings that have been popping up all day – thanks, everyone, for those greetings!  There have been literally hundreds, from close friends and some from long ago friends, not to mention some from those I have no clue who they are despite the subject line of “a friend of ‘known friend’s name’ wishes you a happ….” – very nice of everyone to share in my celebration of those 70 years, with a wish of “…and many more!” that serve as another reminder of this milestone day.  I love what our church leader said when my birthday was added to the list of celebrations for our Sunday service and she responded, “Yesterday’s seventy is today’s fifty!”  That’s what I feel and often have talked about that difference between our “chronological age” (that 70) vs. the more important “age we feel” and 50 doesn’t sound so bad right now.  Oh yes, those 70 year old knees do complain, but I’m still resisting any knee replacement just yet, taking an aspirin and vitamin supplement that claims to help the missing cartilage instead.

Yes, after a wonderful surprise birthday party with family and close friends followed by a busy day in church activities, I (we) opted for a 2-hour “recovery nap” this afternoon.  My younger sister responded to my attributing that to being a benefit of being 70 by saying she and her husband took afternoon naps even on their newlywed days (but I’m guessing that was from being tired for other reasons – smile – but loved the thought).

Too often we don’t get to see those beautiful people and memories because they are held until the person’s funeral, something we have often complained about saying, “Too bad the person didn’t hear all this testimony while they were still alive!”  Well I was blessed to hear all that at the birthday party, from family and even friends who have shared lives together.  How wonderful to hear Ray, my best friend for over sixty years now give testimony to that rare friendship with stories and memories of those many years together.  Then Karen, a much newer friend shared how we met (with God’s working) and reciting my book’s chapter explaining my famous Cookie Monster concept (<– click here to download a PDF document and read that).  Karen is the epitome of that CM personality and has been another of those many life’s delightful blessings with she and Ken matching up in an amazing way with Pam and I to become another of those rare “couple friendships” just as Ray and Joyce have been from our childhood days.  The party was truly another of those “once in a lifetime events” that Pam pulled off with much effort and love, reaching out to so many of our beautiful family and friends.  “Thank you all for responding to her invitation to make it so very great!

Jim & Ray, friends for 60+ years with many more to come . . .

Jim & Ray, friends for 60+ years with many more to come . . .

And that is something to celebrate now, not at one’s funeral, and we did!  And I thank God for each and every one of those beautiful people.

70 years young between loving family and friends

70 years young between loving family and friends at birthday party

So, yes, I’m seventy and living on tomorrow at 70+ one more day, a gift to be lived with gusto and appreciation, because today there are many people who will not see tomorrow, people who will not be there to hear those wonderful words of praise and thanks for what they gave in living their own lives of too few years.  We have today.  We are not promised a tomorrow.  So my sage advice from this new vantage point of being seventy is to take the gift of the present and make the best of it, living today as if it may be your last, and some day it will be exactly that.  I pray that you too will be able to say at that moment, I have lived a life of no regrets, nothing I would go back and change, having loved and accepted each of life’s challenges with the best I could offer.

I have, I did and I will continue until that final day comes, at which point I look forward with curiosity to seeing what that the promised afterlife is all about.  I’ve been led to believe it’s pretty awesome, so hope to see YOU there someday not too soon (smile)!

And a special thank you for all who posted on that Facebook with hundreds of greetings, pictures and love . . . you all make living so worthwhile!!!!

Family at the party:

"I didn't know grandpa was a math teacher!"

“I didn’t know grandpa was a math teacher!”

Son Michael and some of his family (Shane was home sick)

Son Michael and some of his family (Shane was home sick)

my tow sisters Betsy & Maggie with Mag's husband and son Craig

my two sisters, Betsy & Maggie with Mag’s husband, Barry, and son Craig

grandchildren, Caleb & Keira, party 'bartenders'

grandchildren, Caleb & Keira, party ‘bartenders’

Daughter, Susan, and husband, Chris (sister Betsy partially hidden)

Daughter, Susan, and husband, Chris (sister Betsy partially hidden)

our great "CM" friends, Karen & Ken

our great “CM” friends, Karen & Ken

good friends still together from our Unisys working days, Fritz & Rose,

good friends still together from our Unisys working days, Fritz & Rose,

our beloved pastor, Rev. John Doll came to both anoint and then give a blessing to the meal/event

our beloved pastor, Rev. John Doll came to both anoint and then give a blessing to the meal/event

and what dedicated and loving friends Bob & Sue have been for Pam and I

and what dedicated and loving friends Bob & Sue have been for Pam and I

Look back with me in these photos Pam posted at the big 70 party wall  (click on the photo for a closer/larger view)  . . .

pictures from over the years with family and friends at the party

pictures from over the years with family and friends at the party

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