The boy, Carl

Reflections

I’m going to let you into a secret. I am aging. Backwards.

I had a tough childhood. I guess we all did, so I won’t bore you with the details. Still, I learned to stand or fall by my own efforts at an early age. As the years passed, I just got older. I didn’t really grow up. I left home at seventeen to raise a pre-made family with four children, to which another was rapidly added, making five. My own family was, in hindsight, understandably not happy. I spent the next thirteen years raising this extended family as best I could. I refer you to my previous comment – I had not grown up.

This chapter of my life ended at the age of thirty when my sole remaining parent had the temerity to die and my wife at the time announced her love for other people. Plural. Not a good year. Sad face.

I struck out on my own and moved into a hovel alone, sinking into an eight-year depression during which I finally sowed some of the wild oats nature gave me, my personal best being dating five wonderful people at the same time. Side effects, everyone was happy and for a few hours I was not alone. Also, I was ripped. As you may imagine five is a really good workout.

Everyone knew about everyone. “Can’t tonight, I’m seeing X” was common. My social calendar was full. That was the way things were back then. And because after being busted having a self-defensive affair during the break-up I had relearned a hard lesson, that until then I had lived by: Don’t lie. Just don’t.

Backwards

So where am I going with this? Why do I say backwards? I will explain.

As a boy of ten I came eighth in a cross-country race of my school of over six hundred. We ran over hill and dale and across rivers and through cow pats for around five miles. Two of those that beat me went on to successful careers as professional sportsmen (shout out to Richard Tinker and Nigel Bell of Wakefield Trinity fame).

As a twenty-something, I ran to town to return a copy of the classic Atari “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” game to the rental shop. Just for fun. A little over four miles round trip, in twenty six minutes. I set off at a sprint and timed myself. I was smoking twenty a day back then. And this was in Yorkshire, where we have hills that others call mountains.

I often dropped and gave myself many, just because I wanted to. I worked out while watching TV and playing Atari games with the family. I was no Arnold, but that wasn’t the goal. My goal was to be the best me I could be. To be happy. Which I wasn’t. Again, in hindsight… I was clearly hiding from bigger problems in my life.

Forty

Roll on to forty. I had a heart attack. And everything changed. I stopped smoking overnight. That will happen when brushing your teeth while hooked up to monitors raises your pulse rate enough to set off alarms. I stared into the mirror as this happened and nurses came running. I recall it very clearly.

That was when I looked into my own eyes and chose to live my own life again.

Over the next twenty years I went through many changes. A new life. A new country. New relationships. By the age of sixty I had had another heart attack, and just for fun a stroke that left me paralyzed for a month before I literally walked it off. I am nothing if not stubborn. And very, very lucky.

I have never taken failure lightly, in any form. Relationships. Career. I will grudgingly accept that I cannot physically do what I once used to do. But. Seven years on from the stroke which left me in a wheelchair, I find myself hiking and exploring the Niagara region more every year. Because. I. Won’t. Give. Up.

I am stronger than at fifty. Have more stamina. Have gone from being a man old before my time to being a man able capable and willing to once more throw myself into new adventures. You have no idea how good that feels. Last weekend I walked down into – and more importantly back out of – the Niagara Whirlpool Trail. That’s a hike along the Niagara gorge which has caused far younger men than I to falter and fail. Did it. Check that box.

And after a few days of, and I won’t sugar coat this, absolute muscular agony, I feel better. Better than ever. Stronger. Because. You gotta use it or lose it. I deliberately went for the burn, then I walked it off. I have worked hard to regain this. I am sixty. I could not have done this at age fifty. Attempting it would probably have killed me. And that is no joke, I mean it literally.

So. Here I am, aging backwards. Through sheer stubborn force of will.

Reflections

Reflections. I reflect on a life not spent perfectly, nor even well. But one spent trying to take one day at a time and be the best person I can be. That is all any of us can do. Life is complicated. Messy. But I will take it every day over the alternative. You can’t control everything in your life. To think otherwise would be foolish.

But some things, you can. So do it. Take control. Take that hike. Go for the burn.

Onwards.

The boy, Carl
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