Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Thought I was Immortal

© James J Alonzo

I thought I was Immortal until I was reminded about Agent Orange. One day while waiting to see a doctor at the Veterans Hospital waiting room, I heard a woman and an elderly man in conversation. I assumed he was her father. He said to her,

“When I was 18, I thought I was immortal.” The old man reminisced.

It was interesting, because I too had thought the same thing — that I was immortal — but at age 44, November 22, 1991, when my first heart attack arrived with a bang, it suddenly occurred to me that I am not! (I was to later find out that an old Nemesis, Agent Orange was the cause)

It was hard for me to accept, for I was in Law Enforcement, and it was important that I stay in shape. I was running daily, three miles a day, to stay in peak shape. Or so I thought..

I found out that my service in Viet Nam, and the injuries, and exposure to Agent Orange was going to haunt me everyday for the rest of my life. That Agent orange damaged my son’s lungs, and I will always feel guilty for bringing A/O home.

Today, looking back at the man, I acknowledge the poignant realization that life passes by so very quickly.

I know this from watching Devin, my grandson, that had Asperger’s disorder, who grew in no time from a, cuddly baby into a tall, strong, eleven-year-old. I remember when as a 5 year old, Devin used to say,

“I don’t want to get older”,

I also remember when Devin was younger and I was watching him, and he asked each day,

“Am I three now?”

I told him, “Not yet. In two months.”

“Is it a long time?”

“Yes, for you, it’s a long time,” all the while I knew that for me, two months is nothing — just a quick passage of time that would end with Devin’s third birthday and would make me long for the days when my grandson was a baby again.

Life moves at a fast pace. I am sure it did for the elderly man in the hospital waiting room. I heard him reminiscing about his younger days.

“In the war, when I was a pilot …” he talked about his past, about flying fighter planes, dog fights, (aerial warfare) bombings, landing war damaged planes and airports. Today, this man is elderly. His skin is wrinkled; his posture slumped. He is fragile — and it made me sad to witness an image of aging, knowing this is what happens as time ticks on. Moreover, it made me sad to see him in the hospital wheel chair, having to receive treatment for an illness that is undoubtedly threatening the life that is already passing him by. However, the man fighting for those precious moments in life also inspired me.

There was no sadness about him, just a sparkle in his eyes, and a toothless smile. Perhaps with age comes a wisdom that the passing of time is an okay process — it is the way life is meant to be.
In addition, mortality comes with life (diseases, heart attacks, cancer or no cancer) — and being reminded of it is not such a bad thing but a wake-up call to appreciate the small moments that pass by so quickly, like when my grandson Devin said to me one day at the house,

“Papa, you’re funny.”

On the other hand, when another time when I was baby-sitting him, I made him a peanut butter sandwich and he said,

“Good job, Papa!” Both statements I took to be as high praise indeed!

While I sometimes regret that my grand boy is growing so quickly and I am aging right along with him, I would not trade these moments for anything. When I have thoughts of sadness about mortality, I focus on the gift of life that allows me to watch my grandson grow up, however startling and swift the process may be.

I am thankful today for that glimpse of the man in the waiting room. I am thankful for the life I have had with two children, one grandson, and a great wife, Nanci, marriage since 1966.

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