Recently a post card came in the mail inviting me to attend my 35-year class reunion. The years certainly got behind me fast. My only excuse is that I am having too much fun.
Between the office and home is my gym. Three days a week I lift weights (normally Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Outside the gym I hike, jog, work on the farm, et cetera to keep myself in shape.
A few months ago a high school classmate, Doug Zastrow, joined my gym. It has been a long time since we saw each other and talk fairly regular now, catching up on life in our humble community.
Doug mentioned receiving the class reunion postcard, stating he had no intention of going. I nodded agreement. My argument was I didn’t want to pay $60 for a meal and a few drinks at a country tavern. Doug had a different reason.
Doug named two classmates he chummed with over the years. Both are dead now. We both started counting the number of classmates who had already died. The first victim was a girl who died from a genetic disease followed by a guy from my clique. He died spear fishing on Lake Winnebago with his son. He didn’t vent his ice shanty correctly and died of CO^2 asphyxiation. We kept tallying the numbers. Another died of a genetic disorder, one from cancer, a few accidents, a few heart attacks and even one suicide.
By the time we added all the classmates we know were dead we had reached 20 souls out of a class of 120. There is no doubt we missed a few. People move and word of a death doesn’t always reach my ears. It’s not what I focus on in life.
My classmates excel at dying. According to the Social Security Administration we should expect fewer than 10% of our class to have left this world by our age. I am 53. You would expect this number of deaths somewhere around the late 60s.
Figures don’t lie, but liars figure, or so the adage goes. Accountant or not, you can’t manipulate these numbers to your advantage: you are either dead or alive. The twilight zone in between is only a place you pass through; no setting up camp for any period of time.
I beat the odds so far; so have you. We also suffer from survivor’s bias. We only come to terms with death when we start adding up the numbers or face our own demise.
We are also lucky. There are no guarantees we live another day. Next week I am in a continuing education class on S corporations in Wisconsin Dells. I could die in a car accident on the way there or of a heart attack before the weekend is out. I could also live another 50 years. You never really know.
Part of thinking like an accountant is to understand the best laid plans often go awry. Plans can, and should, change. Sometimes the plans outlive the patient.
I get a large number of emails daily from readers. Many get the impression I chum around all day with guys like Pete (Mr. Money Mustache), Jim (jlcollinsnh) or Carl (1500 Days) or other personal finance bloggers. While it is true I communicate with these people periodically, we never really chum together consistently.
Pete is a client and has been for several years. I don’t think we ever tipped a beer outside of Camp Mustache. We talk (usually email) a few times a year discussing his tax situation. Once in a very great while he may ask my advice on a financial topic as it relates to tax. I consider Pete a friend, but I bet you would consider our relationship differently from what you consider a friendship.
Jim and Carl enjoyed more personal time with me as we spent a long weekend at Conclave. We email off and on since. More so with Jim as he is also now a client. I owe Carl a guest post. You would think I would get the darn thing written considering how many words I plaster to paper.
There are other bloggers I communicate with: Doug Nordman and the Fiery Millennial come to mind. Even climbed a mountain with the Fiery young lady. I consider them friends too, but you might have a different definition of friendship.
Each and every one of these people I admire and respect. I trust their council and look forward to meeting them again at the next personal finance conference. Social media means I have a vague idea what their life is up to. Anyone who sees my social media knows I share nothing online outside this blog of my personal life. I am an open book, but I have no desire to share with the world at large every detail of my life.
Life is a gift. I have been amply blessed with plenty of it. Throughout human history living to age 50 was rare. Infant mortality snuffed out more life before it ever got started. Slowly walk an old graveyard and experience the reality of human life—and suffering—over the course of history. No guarantees, kind readers. No guarantees.
I don’t have any friends, yet I am not lonely or alone. Outside family, employees and clients, I don’t see anyone on a regular basis unless you count the meet-ups at conferences with peers.
I rarely dine out and the number of times I haunt a tavern (remember I live in Wisconsin!) in a year is in the very low single digits. Travel is reserved for business with the exception of the family trip planned to view the eclipse in August. I dine with clients and readers more often than with Mrs. Accountant. Many times Mrs. Accountant tags along when I dine with a client.
It’s the life we choose to live; the life I choose to live. My life is filled with joy, not to be confused with happiness. The two are different. I am happy most of the time unless the steers get out and I have to chase them down. Those buggers can run a long time before they give up.
Every moment of precious life is a gift. Every moment of every day you must feel and express gratitude for being alive. Your actions, attitude and words mark this gratitude.
But there is one more thing we need to talk about today. One more thing to put life into perspective.
Last Man Standing
So many of my classmates are dead. What I failed to mention is a classmate who died when he was in grade school. I chummed with him because no one else would. He was sick. Very sick. Everyone knew he was going to die. He would show me his arm where the doctors put the needle in. They inserted some kind of device to make it easier to administer medication. The bulge on his arm pulsed. He wanted me to feel it. I was reluctant, but finally did. I could feel his pulse, his life.
I’m glad I did. It made him happy to share his life experience. He always seemed happy, well adjusted. Dying was part of his worldview. I had decades ahead of me; he had only months. One days he stopped showing up for school. I never cried. I can’t remember his name. Why are my eyes blurry now?
Doug and I never discussed the true first fatality of our class. I don’t think anyone even remembers he ever lived except me and his family. I was his only friend, such as it was.
There is something special about the first and the last to die. The young girl who died shortly after graduation is known by all. She was the first survivor to go.
Have you ever wondered what it is like for a group of men who served together in a theater of war? Have you seen their stories of how they held each other’s lived in their hands? Have you ever seen stories of how they gather each year to share memories? Have you ever seen when everyone of the group is gone save one? I can think of no sadder place to stand in life, alone with no one to share your stories or your memories with.
One of us will live that eventuality. Only a survivor can walk that last mile alone. I wonder who will be the last one standing of my classmates. Could it be me?
I will not attend my class reunion. I wonder how I will feel if I discover they are all gone someday; only I survive. Will I regret my choice?
Probably not. I have a hard time remembering their names. Someone younger and full of life will wander along and be willing to listen to the stories of an old man, worn and ragged.
When the day is late and the light is low I will sit alone (or maybe that is you in the empty room of shadows) reflecting on a life well lived, grateful for all the people who passed through my life. I loved them all even if I couldn’t get to know them better.
I raise my glass to you, the survivors. You are the luckiest sons-a-bitches I’ve ever seen.