Fourth quarter--Counting on Overtime
A wise friend told me that she was resurrecting the victories during each quarter of her life. She decided on 20 year segments: Birth through age 20, 20 through 40, 40 through 60, 60 through 80. “Of course”, she amended, “there will be extra innings -- or overtime.”
Here in the fourth quarter at age 68, scoring victories is different than the wins of 17 or 35 or 52. Some of the victories now are in the service of making those extra innings we anticipate the apex of our “game.”
My First Quarter: Birth to Age 20
The victories of my first quarter include risky ventures like jumping Highway 50 on skis at age 9, walking the spines of homes under construction when I was around 11 or 12, jumping into the well at the Pulgas Water Temple off Hwy. 280 when I was 17.
It was also my 17th year that I gave a talk on French existentialism, in French, at Stanford before I knew I would apply and attend there. I recall that I was so stressed by this speaking debut that I contracted a prolonged and painful case of mononucleosis.
At the time, it seemed like a victory to be dating the MVP in football and basketball even though I was in the “brain” clique, not the “cheerleader/jock” clique in high school.
I was asked to be Valedictorian for my graduating class. My response? Having tested those risky waters, I said, “I’ll write it, but I won’t speak in front of all those people.” I later turned down a radio show offered because of my book review column in San Francisco Magazine. This stance was destined for a one of those complete 180 degree turnarounds. (See 3rd and 4th quarter).
My application to Stanford was accepted and several scholarships awarded. Straddling my 20th year, I attended Stanford in Vienna, which was the first departure from my strictly California cultural roots. This is where I acquired the conviction that one doesn’t appreciate their country of origin until they’ve lived somewhere else. It was also where I learned that most of our education is incidental to the courses we take.
My Second Quarter: Age 20 to Age 40
I graduated from Stanford early, and 45 years later my mother is still disappointed that I didn’t bother to attend the graduation ceremony. Ceremonies didn’t seem important at the time. Only much later did I understand that ceremony exists to focus and unify families, to conserve shared victories.
I got a job with a non-scheduled airline that doesn’t exist anymore to make enough money to go back to school and get a couple of teaching credentials. I flew for two summers, always being furloughed in time to begin the school year, because fewer planes were chartered in the fall, winter and spring. I learned I wasn’t ready to be the free spirit I thought I was; there were times I literally kissed the ground at home. Charter or non-scheduled airlines were notorious for calling the crew half-way home and surprising us with another planeload of Japanese nurses or Shriners or barbershop quartets and sending us back over the Atlantic or Pacific one more time. “We’re turning you around” were words I came to dread.
In my mid-twenties, I started my first long-term (9 years) relationship with a man who is still a good friend. Brian was an Annapolis grad/ model-actor who was rooming with a pilot I dated for awhile. Together we attended a San Francisco Magazine party -- can’t remember why. After a conversation with the editor, I started writing the book column. Victories include interviewing Gore Vidal (best known for the book/movie Caligula), James Baldwin (Go Tell it on the Mountain), Joseph Heller (Catch-22) and Maia Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Flies). I interviewed anyone who went on book tour -- including a hit man, an emerald miner, and the husband of iconic actress Rosalind Russell. “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” is the Rosalind Russell quote that reminds me even now that the banquet table is set for me. I just have to be have the courage to partake of the feast of people, places and peak experiences.
When San Francisco Magazine was sold to LA Magazine and dropped the book and theatre columns in favor of features like “The Top Ten Eligible Men in San Francisco,” I began writing feature stories. The one I enjoyed the most was “Survivors of the Quake” for the April issue of SF Mag to commemorate the 1906 quake. I interviewed people who had been children at that momentous event, and learned that the child in all of us doesn’t count the consequences -- loss of life and property -- but revels in and retains the wonder of new experiences like camping in the park, Chinese people passing out silver dollars for luck and two sisters who were extricated, giggling hysterically, from a Murphy bed that returned to upright --trapping them like two clams in one shell -- when the early morning quake hit.
With my San Francisco Magazine bi-line as a reference, I climbed on a plane and headed to New York to pitch stories to Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Business 2.0 among others. The next few years I wrote a number of international cover stories on health and cutting edge science. Every few months, I commuted to New York, where my author friends introduced me to the original writers of Saturday Night Live. I still remember swinging down 5th Avenue, my heart in my throat, wearing my black pencil skirt and green silk blouse, to go pitch stories to Helen Gurley Brown, legendary editor of Cosmopolitan. It was an exciting, fast-paced time when pushing past preconceived boundaries became if not a habit, an addictive rush.
I was writing for Cosmopolitan and Redbook, and Brian was doing Doublemint Gum commercials and gracing the cover of Playgirl Magazine. We felt like the role models for the hot-tub-and peacock-feather movement.
Brian had introduced me to running. I still miss heading out the door and working towards that first sweaty epinephrine high about 2 miles into the run. I wrote for about 2 hours every morning and then went for a 5 to 7 mile run - and the rest of the day was mine and I could eat ANYTHING. We raced with the Mt. Tamalpais running club, and just before my 30th birthday I completed my first marathon in just under four hours. I was planning to run half of the San Francisco marathon that day. The victory was that I just kept going. So many of my wins have been just that -- pushing past what I thought I could do.
At 34, it finally registered for me that sweet, fun Brian was never going to change his mind about having children, and it was time to go. This was a very difficult choice, but because I faced this hurdle of moving on, I married John a year later and our son, Duncan arrived a year later, four months after I turned 36. Mayme joined us when I was closing in on 40. Mayme’s birth was a victory. Since Duncan arrived via emergency C-section, I was determined to experience natural childbirth once in my life. I found an obstetrician that would let me labor with no intercession unless absolutely necessary. Fifty hours of labor including 4 hours of pushing later, my beautiful daughter arrived. Mayme still brings me flowers -- on HER birthday.
The later half of my 30’s was a celebration of their victories. I revelled in their childhoods and strived to make them as full of wonder and magic as possible. The Tooth Fairy always left a note praising Duncan and Mayme’s best qualities (in VERY tiny handwriting) and Santa Claus always left a thank-you note for the cookies and a second one on behalf of the reindeer for the carrots.
During that era when so many of us waited to start families, several of my friends waited TOO long and later greatly regretted it. This contrast elevates parenthood from customary to victorious. Even though my first marriage was destined to end, Duncan and Mayme have brightened and enlightened my life beyond measure. There are just things you never need to know about yourself if you never have children -- and for me, self-knowledge, or wisdom, is the ultimate destination.
My Third Quarter -- Age 40 to Age 60
It was just before my 40th birthday that I accepted that my then-husband was not committed to (did not even recall) the agreement that he would take a turn at working out in the world, and I would get my chance to be a full-time parent. He was committed to loving his kids, cooking us great meals and assembling a legendary wine cellar, but only very occasionally contributing to the family budget. Having waited so long, I was desperate not to miss ushering Duncan and Mayme through childhood.
A good friend approached me about a business that might allow me to “retire within the next five years.” Bristling with skepticism (hope twisted by fear), I said, “I’m listening…” A couple of months later, after extensive research, I stopped saying “NO” long enough to see the possibilities. I learned that suspending my programmed disbelief -- and allowing myself to actually believe that life could be better -- is the critical element in navigating to a new destination.
The victory of turning in my keys and coming home to Duncan and Mayme two and a half years later ranks right up there in the top five victories in my life. I still remember how it felt packing up a friend’s truck with my old oak desk and several boxes and saying goodbye to Sonoma Country Day School after 12 years. Relief laced with euphoria is the best description I can come up with. I have a much-loved photo of Mayme grinning impossibly big, sitting on my lap for the pumpkin patch hay ride the following October. I’ve always called this “my victory photo.”
It was a good school and I did good work there, both as a teacher and as Admissions Director, but I had much more important work to do at home and in my business. Duncan, as a dyslexic non-reader in the second grade, would need our combined focused efforts to get him through a school system that wanted to label his exceptional intelligence, creativity and insight as a disability. Mayme, who excelled in school and welcomed new challenges, counted on me as a dedicated cheering section -- someone who was not too tired after a day’s work to spend time baking cookies or watching a Shirley Temple movie with her.
My purpose in my business moved from eliminating the heavy burden of debt we’d accumulated to awakening others to claiming the lives they really wanted to live. After pushing past my initial terror, I began to speak to larger and larger groups from coast to coast -- and I began to enjoy it. The lives of some of the people I had introduced to the business began to change -- less time on the job, more time with the people they love, less debt, a car that started every time. It’s a business that celebrates every little victory,and the victories I remember best during this time were witnessing the recognition of others I had the honor of helping.
It was an unexpected victory to convince John to join me for counseling. I was hoping that -- with someone else in the room -- he could finally be able to hear that I just wanted a little help. I wanted him to find a way to contribute financially -- while I got my business solidly off the ground. What actually occurred is that I finally heard that risk and expansion -- and solvency -- were my aspirations, not his. I’d stopped believing that he’d ever realize the paralyzing effect of alcohol on his life. Duncan and Mayme and I had become accustomed to being on our own from about 4pm on everyday. I had come to think of John’s drinking as slow suicide by very fine wine.
During the next decade, Duncan graduated from highschool and went off to study and paint at the San Francisco Art Institute. Then Mayme graduated and attended Sonoma State and University of London Royal Holloway. This, too, was a victory, because the growth of my business meant they would both emerge without the undermining debt so many students carry for so long after graduation.
My Fourth Quarter -- Age 60 to 80
I’m about one third the way through the fourth quarter, “AND THE SCORE IS……” -- there is no simple score, of course, in the game of life. But there are turning points in the game, and so far, this quarter has already had the crowd (me) gasping in exhilaration and surprise at the plays on the field.
I count it a victory that I stayed in my marriage until I had exhausted all avenues I could think of, until Duncan and Mayme had flown the nest, until I’d stood by John through the death of his father and through his mother Sofie coming to live with us -- until I felt I would contract some dire illness if I continued to be untrue to who I really am.
First I moved downstairs, painting four rooms, adding a kitchen and a pellet stove, insulating and dropping the bedroom ceiling so that I wouldn’t be continually awakened by Sofie. John’s mother was a very sweet woman who had fairly advanced Alzheimers, and her clock was beginning to flip -- up all night moving around the house and sleeping most of the day. I had been providing most of her care -- taking her on outings, giving her showers and soothing her paranoia.
It was a victory to claim my own space, but I was only there for about two months when housesitting for a friend for two weeks brought it home to me that I hadn’t moved far enough away. At my friend’s home, I felt so peaceful and autonomous with frequent spikes of actual joy! I started losing weight and taking LONG walks. During those long walks I found that I was rehearsing what to say to John. It was time to talk about a formal separation.
About this time, I called an old friend about helping me reach a bonus level in my business that would mean a $20,000 check at the end of the year -- a check that had new meaning after spending all my savings on creating a living space (that, as it turned out) I wouldn’t be using for long, and now launching into the unknown.
This friend was Lee Strong -- someone who had been a business partner 15 years earlier. Lee had suspended his business --- in fact he suspended just about everything he was pursuing -- about 10 years previously when he had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His heart was so enlarged that they were talking heart transplant. I didn’t see Lee once in that entire decade, but I had heard through mutual friends that the heart transplant hadn’t been necessary. Medications had worked exceptionally well in his case and he was doing fine, thriving in his database development business and going on grand adventures in his RV.
Lee’s response to my call was “Sure! But you have to have lunch with me.” He began calling regularly, asking if I wanted to check out antique stores in Petaluma, or take a hike around Spring Lake, or go geocaching (whatever that was!). I’d always enjoyed Lee’s company so I said, “Sure” -- and thought nothing of it until one day when suddenly we were holding hands over the lunch table. I was STILL thinking that it would be so great to live alone, but it seemed that Lee was making inroads in my heart.
Falling in love again? Lee knew long before I did, but in time I couldn’t deny how happy and present and energized I was whenever we were together.
There followed many happy days and months and years -- and MANY trips in his RV. I rediscovered the magic of campfires and starlit nights, of limitless vistas and deep conversations, of shared purpose and having someone to hold close at night. Both of us were -- and are -- amazed at the simplicity and completeness of our love.
We got married, and for two years now on our anniversary we’ve cried and danced again, listening to the recording of both our wedding rehearsal and our wedding.
We’re now in the very middle of the greatest endeavor we’re likely to face, because Lee’s heart stopped responding to medications and started to deteriorate rapidly about 10 months ago. Now we’re on a new journey. Destination: a new heart for Lee.
Victory Number One: Despite a very close call, Lee made it through the implantation of something called a Left Ventricle Assist Device, which is basically a motor that pushes about 6 liters of blood throw his body every minute. There have been some setbacks but all in all he’s getting stronger, and will soon be ready for
Victory Number Two: Lee’s new heart. We waited only 5 months, and Lee was in the hospital only 9 day -- and these two facts feel like genuine miracles.
Also on the scoreboard is the palpable new depths our relationship is reaching. Speaking with other couples who have gone through close call medical crises, I keep hearing these words: “Boy!! Did I find out who I was married to!” For me, I found out that I am married to a man of exceptional courage, optimism and vision. I also found out that I am capable of dedicating myself whole-heartedly to someone else -- with absolutely no resentment or unrest. I didn’t know that about myself. Lee and I love to talk about the passion, the ease, the playfulness and the harmony of our relationship. Now we’ve learned that it can withstand any storm, and wing even higher in high winds.
To date, in this quarter of the game, the clearest victory is the deep-seated understanding that happiness is born of gratitude married to a strong sense of purpose.
First quarter: experimentation, testing limits
Second quarter: expansion, testing limits
Third quarter: nurture and new beginnings -- reaching for more expansion
Fourth quarter: rejoicing and acknowledgment, gratitude and contribution
Susan is a published writer and motivational speaker with 30 years of experience, dedicated to guiding people to a life of financial invincibility and peace of mind.