It’s a fairly common practice among players and coaches on many high school football teams to hold up four fingers prior to the onset of the fourth quarter. The gesture is meant to be a simple reminder to themselves and one another that they are about to begin what is often the time period when the outcome of the game will be decided, so they’d better knuckle down and give their all because there is no fifth quarter.
If you see me walking around this weekend holding four fingers in the air, it is because this Sunday will be my 60th birthday. Therefore, if I’m fortunate enough to match my father’s eighty years lived, I’m about to begin my personal fourth quarter, and I want to make sure that my final minutes do not tick away without my knuckling down and making the most of every second. And with so little time to spend with them, I especially want to make sure I make the most of my limited years with my three current grandbabies and hopefully more. There are so many experiences I want to share with them and memories I want to make with them before my scoreboard clock reaches 00:00.
I can say with certainty that I’m not having some sort of three-fourths life crisis. I have no inclination to purchase a sports car, climb a mountain, or join a gym. And although I regret the times I may have behaved inappropriately or hurt the feelings of others, I do not feel the need to go on some Twelve-Step apology tour. Nor am I sad or morose about death in general or the sapping of energy, the reduced functioning of body, or the clouding of the mind that will progressively occur prior to it. I just want to be as fully engaged in and appreciative of as many of the moments that remain as possible.
One of my best friends died of colon cancer at the age of 46. During his last months, as it became increasingly obvious that his demise was inevitable, I ignored the advice of Howard Jones, who once sang, “Don’t try to live your life in one day.” As you would expect at such a relatively young age, my friend Bob was nowhere near ready to die. I reminded him that time is relative and suggested he try to imagine each day as a lifetime itself. As much as it were possible through the pain and the meds that dulled his senses, I encouraged him to live in every breath with an acute awareness of the people, the art, the dreams that filled his sleep, and whatever pleasures were still possible for him to experience. Looking back, I realize how pedantic I must have sounded, and of course, such advice is much easier to give than to follow. However, I still feel my advice was sound. At that time, Bob’s death was closer to twenty weeks away than the twenty years I optimistically hope remain for me, but even though I know that the trappings and mundanities of daily life will often swallow my best intentions, I want to live the 7,300 days in what remains of those fourscore years with such a laser-focused awareness of how good it really is to be alive that it will make each day feel as if it were a lifetime.
In recent years, I’ve begun to sign my books and to close much of my correspondence with the phrase “Always Love.” The two-word phrase is a reminder to myself and wishful advice to the receiver to consciously choose to love. In this context, I’m not defining “love” in some hippy-dippy, Beatlesesque “All You Need Is Love” manner but love as it manifests through displays of kindness, empathy, and forgiveness. Rather than hate, love. Rather than anger, love. Rather than vengeance, love. Rather than indifference, love. Rather than envy, love. The former in each of these pairs is by far the easier option, but it’s the choice to love that reveals our better angels as members of the human species, which far too often of late seems to be sinking to its basest nature. I’m far from a holy roller or a Bible thumper, but I’ve always held dear the second of the only two commandments it is reported that Jesus ever delineated: “Love thy neighbor.”
So if you see my four fingers flying, know that one represents my desire to be engaged, a second to be appreciative of the blessings in my life, a third to stay in the moments, and the last to choose love during this fourth quarter of my life.
If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Belfast, Ohio below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty