we might find inspiration.
On Monday I played golf with a group of seniors, twelve of them, sorted into three foursomes, each group competing against the other. We wagered a few bucks to keep the game interesting.
I walked, carrying my bag of 12 clubs, two less than the traditional limit, allowing me to enjoy the four-mile hike on sunny August day. Finally, after glorious weather, the normal Cincinnati humidity had returned.
We laughed and bantered around the course, congratulating each other on good shots and good putts and gnashing our teeth at bad ones. Two of our scores counted on each hole. The guys in my group played better than the average golfer and had known each other for years. I was the new kid on the block.
After 14 holes, I was becoming tired (I ran six miles earlier in the morning) and asked to ride with Jerry (not his real name) in his golf cart. Our other two comrades also rode in a cart. Jerry offered a ride much earlier but I declined, enjoying walking up and down the gentle hills on this pleasant county course.
Finally, on the fifteenth hole, we paused, waiting on the groups in front of us. When you sit together in a golf cart, you start talking. Somehow, I forget how or why, Jerry told me that he suffered a heart attack a year and a half ago. He was about 70 pounds overweight; so I assumed the heart issue had not prompted a change in lifestyle.
“Did you have a bypass?” He shook his head and said that he only had some stents placed. Then he said he’d have to return soon to the cardiologist for another evaluation. He didn’t sound optimistic. At that, I suggested he watch the DVD, Forks Over Knives, featuring Dr. Neal Barnard and other eminent researchers. Without preaching about LifeNuts, I explained that the DVD might help him enormously. I wrote its title on his scorecard.
His next words struck me. “The other morning I woke up and felt peaceful,” Jerry said. “I just felt at peace with myself. You know, I’m ready. I’ve had a good life.” Holy crap, I thought.
I asked if he had any grandchildren, remembering my own munchkins, now numbering five. “Only one. He’s 17.” I imagined that the average teenager wouldn’t be too interested in grandfathers. Maybe that was the case with his. He didn’t seem worried about leaving anything behind.
Jerry continued, “Besides that, I’ve got a spot on my lung.” I gulped, thinking to myself, this guy is ready for death, even though he’s playing pretty good golf.
“How old are you,” I asked. “Sixty-seven. Or rather, I’ll be 67 pretty soon. I’m 66,” Jerry replied.
Stunned, I did not dare tell him that I was 67 also and getting ready to run a marathon the next weekend. Nor did I expound further on LifeNuts, the lifestyle that provides a healthy and happy old age – for an entire community. We finished the round and shook hands. The golf and its camaraderie were fun but the message he sent had more meaning than the good score I shot.
Later that day I explained Jerry’s situation to my wife. Laura correctly observed that some people enjoy life their own way, which may differ drastically from my way. I commented that it seemed almost senseless to finish life so young. Each to his own.
Jerry’s words made me think of Mike Fremont, now 92, whose lifestyle has inspired the formation of LifeNuts. Still canoeing, running half marathons, reading the New Yorker weekly and the New York Times daily, he lives life fully and his contributions to society don’t go unnoticed. Yet, I don’t think that Mike’s vitality would be enough to motivate Jerry to change. All he wants is a few more rounds of golf. And maybe that’s enough.