Uncle Gene, 91 and going strong

90 years is a long time. 90 years ago the country was enduring the worst year of the economic crash, the great Midwest dust bowl was occurring due to severe drought, the “New Deal” was taking effect to create jobs and my wife’s Uncle Gene was born. Gene was born to Italian immigrants who spoke little English but made a good life for their 5 children, all of whom went on to successful careers except one of his sisters who died at the age of 17 from Lukemia. It’s not the story of Gene’s familial order that I want to address here though, nor his success as one of the most creative marketing geniuses of his time. (He worked for several of the largest advertising agencies during his career.) He was one of the true advertising madmen and created many familiar campaigns for McDonalds, Marlboro, Pillsbury, and State Farm Insurance. Remember “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is There”? That was Gene’s. This helps give context to the story as we just spent a long weekend with him. He’s still quite sharp, in great shape as evidenced by the fact that he stayed up and drank with the family members ranging from their 30’s to late 60’s every night ‘til after midnight. He walked everywhere with us and was happily lifting the lady’s luggage into the back of the minivan we all carted the gang around in. Remarkable! But I write this from the perspective of somebody who has had to undergo quite severe surgery to correct a Myocardial Bridge. (A congenital heart defect with potentially lethal symptoms.) Somebody who has a little different perspective when looking at others who have never had any serious consequences that might compromise their health, their life. And at 90, my goodness, what a blessing that is, I’m sure you would agree. Gene has it all going on for a 90 year old. I spent the weekend in amazement and couldn’t help but reflect on A) Would I even live to be his age given my condition? B) Why is it that he’s been blessed with this incredibly well assembled body that continues to perform, for the most part, as it should? He lives each day to the fullest…might be a lesson in there somewhere.

I know, comparison is the thief of joy and please don’t misunderstand my observation. That’s not really what I’m doing. What I’m taking away from it is that the gift of a relatively healthy and “normal” life that I’ve been given as a second chance post-surgery does not come without obligation. Gene has seen a lot. He has suffered the loss of close family members, including his childhood sweetheart that he married and his brother, whom he revered. He’s shared the pain of divorce through his children and the challenges that come to families with autistic children. He has two grandchildren with autism and six kids of his own. But Gene has never experienced in his 90 years, the serious threat of death from his body failing him. Now, ultimately, he’s very aware he’ll not likely be in this condition for much longer and his end is closer than further away at his age. But that’s very different than those of us who recognize the amazing gift of life at an earlier/younger age when the threat of it being taken away is more than a rude awakening. Seeing him navigate his world at 90 has made me all the more certain of the need to give back in so many ways; Sooner than later. To share the thought of hope and optimism in the face of darkness and uncertainty. Not to put a mask on reality but to do the same thing he does every day and that is expect to wake up for another. Watching the way he navigates his world and knowing the way I have to navigate mine now, post my surgical gift of life, only reinforces that we don’t get to know how much time we have left, when our time will be up and that the precious hours of each and every day need to be lived with relentless intent. People need people at any age and if we’ve got a gift, a talent that can help them in some way, it’s our obligation to share it for all to benefit. We don’t get to know when that opportunity expires and for me, that means there is no time like the present to continue to share and help others to the best of my ability with the experience I’ve been blessed to have gone thru and the skill set I possess to share it. I’ve seen the same with Gene’s gift of incredible creativity as he’s done children’s books on Autism to raise awareness and funds for the cause. But more importantly to show me that time is not something we get to control, health is not something we get to know, and that 90 years is not a given. Why is he here having never really done anything to insure his longevity? (Maybe living a “creative” lifestyle contributes to a longer life.) If for no other reason, for those of us younger to reflect on our life’s purpose by his example. Are we doing something that will resonate as we continue to age? Will our legacy be one of having done something to perpetuate good? Spending the time with Gene was invaluable for all of us as we shared a human history lesson and reinforced our understanding of the fragility of life and need for human interaction. We all learned a lot this weekend. Thanks for still being here to help us along, Gene. You’re an inspiration in so many ways. We love you for causing us to reflect, to talk, to share and to look inward so we can better project outward.