I was scanning old photos from some crumbling family albums at Kinko’s/FedEx last weekend when I came across this one. In my mother’s cheerful handwriting on the back of the photo it simply says, “Michael, age 10 1/2 months.” Now I know it was 1961 and things were different but this seems like a precarious place for an infant, even 50 years ago.
Survival is a noun that means the act of staying alive or in existence, especially after facing life-threatening danger. Synonyms include existence, endurance, being, subsistence and persistence. Antonyms include death.
I don’t know that my childhood was more dangerous than anyone else’s, except maybe the Beaver on Leave It To Beaver. But Beaver was not real. I sometimes wanted a mother who vacuumed in high heels and had warm cookies waiting for us when we came home from school. Instead we got Mom who chain-smoked joints and ranted about the military industrial complex and French Intensive organic farming. And we all survived her although she did not survive us.
I survived a lot of things. Multiple vaccinations by well-meaning Air Force doctors and nurses before flying to Japan in 1967 and again before going to the Philippines in 1972, skiing without helmets from about 1966 to about 5 years ago, car accidents, good and bad jobs, traveling around Europe with only a train pass, a backpack and $243 for 6 weeks in 1983, working almost full-time in college and full-time in law school, my mother’s illnesses and death, The Grateful Dead and so much more. On one trip in Europe and Morocco at age 21, in 1984 I survived a train derailment in Portugual. I camped alone in the West Elk Wilderness starting at age 13, hitchhiked all over Gunnison County and from Crested Butte to Aspen as a young teen, getting mugged by a bunch of high school kids on a Manhattan subway one Christmas Eve, being jumped by 5 guys in Central Park in broad daylight (fought my way out of that one until they miraculously gave up), getting dysentery in a remote part of Corfu while camping in an olive grove, having my wallet, passport and other papers stolen on the subway in Paris, having my apartment burgled in Manhattan, having our house burn down in Crested Butte in 1972, skiing off a cliff and crashing into a tree (pre-helmet days) and ending up hanging from a different tree by 1 ski about 15 feet off the ground, getting swept out to sea off Long Island (had to get rescued by boat), getting stung by jellyfish in the South China Sea, etc.
And of course I lived through a lot of easier moments. But even the hard moments don’t seem remarkable because everyone goes through hard stuff. I heard someone say today, “The good news was that I was 8 feet from the fairway, the bad news was that it wasn’t the right fairway.” That’s me much of the time. And to just keep playing instead of sitting there pissed off at myself for, as our last president said, “misunderestimating” the lie of the ball. The point is to keep playing with some humility and some humor. And humility is definitely not for sissies. Neither is survival.