The Daunting Duality:
Long Life vs. Giving It All Up

There has been a goal in my life that I have had for decades. I must have been in my teens when I realized that George Burns and I were both born on January 20. Not only do we share the same birthday, we both wanted to get to our 100th birthday. George made it past 100 by a month and a half. He died on March 9, 1996. While I am happy that George reached 100 plus years, it adds an additional month and a half to my goal of living as long as he did.

About the time when I realized Burns and I had the same birthday, my mother was suffering from of long list of medical issues related to breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. She died in her early 50s, and my dad had heart related problems for another fourteen years before he died. Therefore, my life from my preteens through the next three decades focused upon viewing suffering, pain, and surgeries. That reality did awaken me to the issue of maintaining my health as best I could. I ran cross-country in high school and college. In my adult years, hardly a day goes by that I am not doing 45-minutes of cardiovascular exercise.

However, I danced with death twice in 2008, and neither dance with death could have been avoided by my cardiovascular workouts. One near-death experience was due to prostate cancer and the other was due to a subdural hematoma, which resulted from falling off a ladder and hitting my head on a concrete wall. Therefore, my life has had some very forceful reminders of my finiteness.

Additionally, Burns said about life, "Look to the future, because that is where you'll spend the rest of your life." Therefore, I have looked and focused upon the future. I plan to have a longer life by exercising, eating correctly, and seeing my doctors. My goal is still living at least a day longer than George Burns.

Then enter my two youngest grandchildren, Jack and Owen. They are two additional reasons for working hard at exercise and all those things that I have control over to help add years to my life. After Jack was born, a radical metamorphous took place within me. Then Owen was born two years later. Jack is now four and Owen is two.

An interesting parallel between Jack and Owen's lives and mine is that I had two grandfathers who loved and played with me at the same ages of Jack and Owen are now.

Grandfather Oakford   Grandfather Campbell

My Grandfather Oakford was watching me begin to walk while my Grandfather Campbell played with me in the surf down at the shore. However, I do not remember either of these event or any other substantive moments with either of them, since both died before I was five. I possess only a single shadowy memory of sitting with my Grandfather Oakford while in the backyard of his home.

A lifetime later, I spend a day playing with Jack and Owen every week. We enjoy every moment of games, talking, reading, laughing, and exploring their worlds. However, Jack will not be five until July of this year and Owen will by three then. Essentially, the first five years of our weekly times together filled with happiness and fun will turn to vapor as they grow up.

I love my three adult children and Ayanna, my first grandchild, who is now twenty. While I love them, they are all adults and are doing well on their own yellow brick roads of their lives. Nevertheless, spending time with Jack and Owen is different partly due to the realization of my lost memories of my grandfathers. Also, I had danced with dance a couple of years prior to Jack's birth. Therefore, I understand my finiteness; I am not immortal. Yet, we spend every Wednesday having fun together.

Jack is exploring the world

Jack is exploring the world.

Owen decorated his face for Halloween

Owen decorated his face for Halloween.

Jack is examining a seahorse

Jack is examining a seahorse.

Owen is concerned about the prickly blowfish

Owen is concerned about the prickly blowfish.

We are off for a walk

We are off for a walk.



Jack and Owen are pretending to be me after my cataract operation. The doctor gave me the sunglasses that they are wearing after each cataract operation. The boys are also wearing a mustache like the one I have.

The two of them enjoy the falling leaves

The two of them enjoy the falling leaves.

Owen loves to deal with the computer just like Jack

Owen loves to deal with the computer just like Jack.

The obvious question is which of those pictures will Jack and Owen remember in a handful of years. The answer is equally obvious.

Even though I want to outlive George Burns, someday, a doctor will tell me that nothing can be done to treat some life threatening medical issue that I am facing. I will not enjoy knowing that I will die, but that is life. I get that. Beside, my kids and Ayanna have had decades with me. We possess many memories of our times together.

However, Jack and Owen will not possess memories of me now or in the past. This means that I need to live longer. The more years that I live, the more meaningful will be the memories that they will possess. My Grandmother Oakford lived into her nineties. I was in my early 40s when she died, which means that I had more than thirty years of memories.

I think about this issue a great deal. I do what I can to reach that goal, which is only one aspect of this daunting duality. The other part of this duality is that I would give up my life and all my possessions in a nanosecond if I could protect Jack or Owen from some sort of physical harm. While I spend a great deal of time working to achieve the goal of outliving George Burns, that pales in comparison to protecting Jack and Owen from any harm. I kid you not.

Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death

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