By now, a lot of my friends know that at 8:17 a.m on this day sixty years ago Janice Marie Drabik was born to Edward and Euphrasia Drabik at Holy Cross Hospital on the South Side of Chicago. Sixty years ago, a whole century ago, a whole lifetime ago, and in many ways only just yesterday.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was twenty, it felt like just a blink of an eye. Then I turned around and I was forty-five. Now I’ve sneezed and I am sixty. Am I old – I don’t know. When do you become old, is there an exact moment in time? Is it the first time you get up out bed in the morning and your bones are creaky? Is it the first time someone calls you m’am? Is it the first time you’re given a senior discount on your food bill when you never asked for it? Is it the first time someone says you look just like a friend’s grandmother? If these are specific moments that define being old then I am old because they have all happened to me.
Over the past few months I have been thinking a lot about turning sixty. To me, that number just sounded old. In the past I’ve never been one to focus on my chronological number but this year I was borderline obsessed by it. I have always prided myself in trying to keep myself in the forefront of whatever I was doing. I can be extremely competitive and always want to make sure that I am part of the fray, making a contribution, being a contender. (can you hear the music from Rocky building right now?). But there is one thing that you cannot control and that is the march of time. And to quote a line from the play Steel Magnolias – “time marches on until one day you see that it has marched all over your face.” No one is immune, it happens to us all. And unfortunately we are a society that is obsessed by youth, looking young, feeling young. Want to feel younger – try lifestyle lift and get rid of that sagging skin under your chin. Want to feel younger – get Botox injections and get rid of those bags under and around your eyes. Want to feel younger – go to a fat farm and lose those unwanted pounds. And it can go on and on.
So I woke up this morning, and I have to admit that I was feeling a little down. I don’t want to be sixty but there is nothing that I can do about it. Or can I? Just as I was starting to wallow in a heavy dose of self pity, I picked up my iPhone and noticed that I had a message on Facebook. The message was from a former student of mine a lovely young woman, now thirty, who recently went through a huge medical issue that for quite some time left her virtually completely paralyzed. Before that happened, she had been in the teaching profession for about 10 years and in her message shared with me how shocked and amazed she was at the outpouring of love she received during her illness not only from friends and family but especially from her students, some of which she knew for years but others for only a few weeks or months. She said she knew she had touched these students in many ways but realized there were so many other ways she had had an influence on them and never realized until this unfortunate incident happened.
She then told me that she felt our lives as teachers were similar in many ways. She proceeded to thank me for my influence on her life and that, based on her recent experience, could not fathom the breadth of influence she felt I must have had on many lives given the years and various work experiences that I had. She ended by saying, “to quote my sister Shelly, we are so happy that you were born. Happy Birthday to you with all my love.” And at that moment it finally dawned on me that I had totally been obsessing about the wrong thing over these past few months. The worth of your life has nothing to do with the number you are, your physical beauty or your physical ability. The worth of your life is really about who you love and who loves you. To have love in your life, to give love and to receive love is all that matters. Everything else will be what it will be.
So on my sixtieth birthday, I want to especially thank my former student Sandy Jarosz Kozloswki for being my personal Cher who so brilliantly in the movie Moonstruck slapped Nicholas Cage in the face and said “snap out of it.” Taking the time to write that beautiful and poignant message was, more than you will ever know, exactly what I needed to hear and exactly when I needed to hear it.
And to all my old friends from Chicago, my new friends from Colorado and my fabulous co-workers at Crate and Barrel, thank you so much for the messages you sent me today on Facebook. Your kind thoughts mean the world to me. And now, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and keep training for the Bolder Boulder! Here’s to the next sixty!