Tomorrow, September 7, 2017, I will turn sixty. I do not feel especially old. I still spend lots of time out running and cycling and walking. Indeed I probably spend more time exercising now than I did when I was younger, in an effort to prove to the world that I am not old. Why else would my brother and I have ridden our bicycles from sea level to the top of Haleakela?
One reason I do not feel old is that I have not dealt with much death. Yes, my dog Sunny died this past summer, and my good friend John Palenberg died two years ago. But my parents are quite alive, still living in their own home as they approach eighty-five and eighty-four. My siblings are all still alive. My wife is alive. My children are alive. Particularly in having both parents alive and well, I am unusual now for my prep school and college classmates, most of whom have lost one or both parents.
My life is so different than that of the my likely next subject, Salmon Chase. His father died of a stroke when Chase was only twelve, forcing his mother to “farm out” her ten children among other relatives. His siblings started to die when Chase was young, and they had all died by the end of the Civil War. Chase married three times and each of his wives died within a few years of their marriage. Chase had six children and four of them died within a few years of birth.
In 1850, just after the death of his sister Hannah, Chase wrote to his friend Charles Sumner.
“What a vale of misery this world is! To me it has been emphatically so. Death has pursued me incessantly ever since I was twenty-five. My path has been—how terribly true it is—through the region of his shadow. Sometimes I feel as if I could give up—as if I must give up. And then after all I rise and press on. Have you ever experienced these feelings? I should faint certainly if I did not believe that God in mercy as well as wisdom orders all things well, and will not suffer those who trust in Him through Christ to be utterly cast down.”
In early 1865, after the death of his last remaining sister, also by stroke, Chase wrote to his friend Susan Walker:
“I feel pretty well and strong considering I am close to my fifty-eighth year. Eleven days more and I shall have completed fifty-seven. But I live in more than the ordinary uncertainty of life. Several members of my family as you know have died very suddenly, & I cannot help feeling that I may be called in like manner. . . . It may be that there is no occasion for special uneasiness. It may be I shall reach the allotted term of three score & ten–now not remote, but it may be also that a year–a month–a week may bring the end of earth.”
And so, thanking God that I am alive, and rejoicing in each day of life, I will head out to bicycle this afternoon. To prove that I am not old.