This summer, my spouse Connie and I drove to Alaska and back. Fourteen-thousand-eight-hundred and fifty-two miles (but who’s counting), we were gone for 89 days. We purchased a very used truck for the trip; it had already been driven 92,000 miles.
We took both keys to our truck in case we lost one, we’d not be stuck keyless in some remote location. We didn’t lose a key. After being back in East Bend for just one week, my key was gone, lost between the truck and the house. I looked in all my coats and pockets, every nook and cranny where a key might be hiding. It did not reappear, it was gone, after three weeks I decided the key had forever vanished. But, we still had one key, so it’s not a disaster.
We have an ancient VW Beetle, a 2000 model with a sunroof that I love to drive. One sunny day after a pleasant excursion, I parked that 17-year-old road warier outside behind our garage door and as is my custom, I locked it. Time passed and eventually we needed to get into that side of the garage where the VW was parked. This old car only has one key; I remembered leaving that key in the cup holder/armrest of our 2010 Subaru.
We drive the Subaru often because of its practicality. I went to get the VW key from the Subaru’s cup holder. It was not there so I doubted the accuracy of my memory of where I’d left it. I searched every place that I thought that key might be. But like the truck key it too had vanished. Now this loss is serious, that car cannot be moved and it’s parked locked behind our garage, so nothing can go in or out. In my mind, I was thinking about a locksmith, but decided I’d try one last time to find the VW key.
I went back to the Subaru with a flashlight to look for that much-needed key. Darn thing was still not in the cup holder, not on the floor, not in the seat. On a lark I turned on the flashlight, looked down the small crevice between the seat and armrest, nothing. I pulled hard on the edge of passenger seat beside that cup holder/armrest, something flashed brightly back from that tiny crevice. I pulled as hard as I could and there was the VW key, I pulled it out, but wait!……. something was still down in that devil’s hole. That, my friends, was the truck key. Oh how I rejoiced.
Even though we didn’t lose a key on our long driving vacation, and it was the best three months of my life, we did suffer great loss. A very dear friend, a friend since the late 1950s, did not survive a terrible auto accident. It never occurred to me that I would never talk to her again when last we spoke by phone just a couple of weeks before our trip began. She was special and I will miss her.
Regretfully, she was the fourth friend to leave my circle while we were away. The other three included two wonderful people I volunteered with at Cancer Services, the third a neighbor I’d known for 20 years. None of them did I expect to not see upon my return home. For me all four deaths were unexpected, and the absence of these friends will take me a long time to get beyond. This is an unfortunate part of aging, having the privilege of living longer means losing more friends.
I will admit that aging scared me until I realized, I didn’t want to stop aging. Once I accepted the inevitable, it became a series of new adventures. In my mind, ever big “0” birthday was going to be the big let down decade. Surely I thought, the 50s must be bad, they weren’t bad at all, so I thought the 60s must be the end of joyful living, I’ll be old. It wasn’t the end of anything, and I didn’t feel different. I’m on the higher side of the mid-70s now and except for seeing people I care about leave earth; it’s not bad at all. So I would like to share what I’m feeling. I hope you don’t mind.
I am very sad about losing four friends, but I also feel incredibly lucky to live the life that is happening to me, to have the friends and family that populate my circle (especially Connie), and my good health. I have so much more than I deserve, but I happily and gratefully accept it for however long it lasts, and recognize it will end. But now it is time to get back to life, and experiencing a whole lot more joy. I know those folks that are gone would want all of us to work hard at being grateful for the privilege of life we still have.
When I look around, I see wonderful people, many continually reaching out to others that need a hand. It is so easy to listen to the news and get the idea that there is only tragedy and selfish and mentally ill people. But there are way, way more good people than bad. Being older has prompted me to see time as I see money; as my most precious resource I must “spend” it carefully. I am honored to be allowed to work with a couple of non-profit organizations. The time I give those organizations is small compared to the enormous joy I get from this time well “spent.”
I hate giving advice, and I’ll not start here, but the “time” I give away comes back to me like a great investment. When I was diagnosed with cancer the second time, I became extremely depressed, my volunteering helped make that depression disappear. It worked for me, far better than any anti-depressant. If you feel less joy than you’d like, trying giving the most precious thing you have away, your time. Give your time to any “cause” you like, but give it away. I’m betting it’ll be one of the best investments you ever make.
Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer and nature lover. He is the past state chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He volunteers as a court-appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care and with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course North Carolina.