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His Way

On December 12, 2012, I had a tiny epiphany, namely, that as long as I live, there will never again be a day when the abbreviated date will be the same repeated numbers, e.g. 12/12/12, which was the last such date until the start of the 22ndcentury, at which point: 01/01/01 – January the 1st, 2101. I can hardly wait.

Science will be of no help in that regard – my waiting, I mean – nor would I choose to hang around if it were. Maybe I’d be looking forward to 01/01/01 as my 154thyear approached. Indeed, that numeric confluence might well be the only thing on the horizon to make me smile. A nurse would whisper in my ear: Happy New Year.  But the slog to 02/02/02 and so on is too much to contemplate.

All my life, I’ve been a good athlete. Good, I say, not great. But from about my 27thyear (there was a period between finishing college through age 26 when I had “gone to seed”), I’ve worked hard at being fit and – my passion for wine, beer, spirits, and chocolate notwithstanding – eating healthfully.

My wife has been my greatest teacher in the matter of nutrition, even if she’s sometimes been guilty of loving me with chocolate. (She’d argue that chocolate is not unhealthful in moderation. Of course, moderation’s my problem.) And when I write stretched out on the bed, as I began to do several years ago in the midst of some health crises, she herds me back into my home office, and mandates periodic standing up, moving around, and the drinking of glasses of water, and she accompanies me on walks and visits to the gym – and it shows! In her, anyway.

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Young men have come up to me in the gym to ask how old I am and, then, how I manage to stay so fit. “I never quit,” is my answer. But, to be honest, that hasn’t happened in a while. Cancer takes a bite out of mind and body, and after a year I’m still recovering, and I guess I look a lot more my age now than I did a year or two ago.

An odd thing: the cancer was in my neck, and radiation treatments caused hair loss there but, as my beard began to grow back, the white hair in some spots has come back black. I joked with my radiation oncologist that maybe there’s a marketable youth treatment there. “No, there isn’t,” she said, and she was serious.

To some extent, our lives are marked by milestones, which anthropologists might also call rites of passage. The one big one none of us remembers is birth, but from then on birthdays tend to be among the most notable events: five, thirteen, eighteen, twenty-one, thirty, forty . . . I don’t know if this is odd or not, but the most memorable of my birthdays was number 70.

Graduations from high school and college, joining and separating from the military, marriage, the births of children and grandchildren. Baptisms (another rite most of us don’t remember), Confirmations, Anointings, which I’ve already received twice. I’ve never attended an ordination. I’ve been to too many funerals, although my faith has given me the ability to feel sadness and joy for those who’ve died in the Lord.

As I write, it’s a late summer’s day, and I’m stretched out in bed. (Sorry, Syd.) The light of the setting sun floods in through the west windows. The birds are silent but their shadows flash by outside, and I can hear kids playing in nearby yards and the traffic half-a-mile away on I-95, especially the motorcycles.

In 1976, the year before I left Ohio for New York, I was sitting with my grandfather in the living room of his house, and sunlight reflected from the windows of a car passing by on Linwood Avenue flashed briefly across the wall. Grandpa said: “I wonder if, over the years, that light has caused the paint to fade. . .”

I said I didn’t think so. Then he said:

“Don’t ever grow old.”

Maybe he was thinking of his son-in-law, my father, who had died suddenly five years before at fifty-four. Maybe he thought my dad had been spared smaller tragedies: the hearing loss; the forgetfulness; the aching joints; the loss of appetite; the taking away of car keys; the death of a wife; the move to a nursing home.

Perhaps that’s true. But Dad also missed my emergence from the lost state I was in just before he died; he missed my conversion to Catholicism and my move to New York; my marriage and my jobs at major book and magazine publishers; the births of his grandsons and their graduations from college.

My dad liked “My Way [2],” the French song (Comme d’habitude by Jacques Revaux) for which Paul Anka wrote new lyrics and which became Frank Sinatra’s most successful song. The story goes that Anka was in Florida having dinner with Sinatra and Ol’Blue Eyes said, “I’m quitting the business. I’m sick of it; I’m getting the hell out.” Nonsense, Paul thought. So he wrote and arranged a swan song just for Frank.

I feel emotion when I hear it, because Dad used to sing it – poorly it must be said – but it no longer holds for me any attraction other than that. Mr. Sinatra likely had the Last Rites before he died in 1998 (his funeral was held at Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills). And on his gravestone, over FRANCIS ALBERT SINATRA, is the title from another of his favorite songs (by Cy Coleman and Susan Leigh), “The Best Is Yet To Come.” God willing, Frank.

But the best is yet to come for me (and all of us) only if, in the end, we did it His Way.

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and Board Secretary of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is available on audio.