Sunday, April 4, 2021

22. I'm Still Here, Dammit (Thank You, AARP)

Well, it happened! 

I came home the other night to find my invitation in the mail:  I am now eligible to join the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).  This was the group I grew up perceiving as belonging to Barbara Bel Geddes, Dick Van Dyke, John Forsythe, or Frances Reid, not little Damon L. Jacobs.  Because I was the youngest one in my family, the youngest one in graduate school, and for awhile the youngest one in internships and work settings, it just seems outrageous to qualify for a group associated with gray hair and retirement. But here we are on the brink of turning 50, and my time has come.

I am well aware there is nothing particularly unique about this event.  Somehow AARP seems to know the aging timeline for everyone, and I've heard plenty of conversations and news feeds about the exact same letter arriving among many peers also turning fifty.  But for me, this moment has additional relevance, given there was a time it looked I wasn't going to get here.  

On January 18, 1993, during my senior year of college, I was afflicted with a devastating and unusual strain of spinal meningitis. If it wasn't for the life-saving actions taken by Sean Bumgarner and Michael Santos, I wouldn't be alive today.  The doctors told my parents I likely was not going to live.  Ultimately I was able to persevere and fight the illness thanks to an antibiotic called Rocephin, an incredible medical team at Dominican Hospital, and my stubborn Taurus will to survive.

The recovery afterward was lengthy and daunting. I literally had to practice walking again, taking one step in front of the other. My school gently suggested I take the quarter off to heal. After living through Lesson 41, I not-so-gently suggested they piss off.  However, I did drop to part-time student status, and took some necessary time to get my body and mind back into working order.

This was not long after the death of pop singer Freddie Mercury. The song he recorded with Queen, "The Show Must Go On," had been playing a lot as a radio single the year before.  The message in the music fed my strength and courage to keep going forward, one step in front of the other, to pass my classes, and reclaim my life. I learned from this experience that: (1) Life is very precious. (2) I am damned lucky to still be here and grow older. (3) Being stubborn can be a strength, and (4) "The Show Must Go On" is a really good song. 

I have never taken life for granted after this.  Paradoxically,  this event inspired me to take more chances and chase more dreams.  Knowing how quick my life could end made me want to make whatever time I had left count.  This was partly the impetus for starting graduate school at age 24, moving to New York at age 34, starting my business at age 39, teaching about PrEP at age 41.   During the COVID19 pandemic I continued to see clients in person, socialize with friends, have sex, volunteer in Georgia, all using the Harm-Reduction principles I described in Lesson 32, as well as guidelines given by New York City and Dr. Anthony Fauci.   I didn't see this as "reckless" or "selfish," I thought of my decisions as logical, science-based, and in alignment with my priority on making every day meaningful. 

I worried so much about death when I was young (Lesson 31).  I fought so hard against death at age 21.  I have taken numerous risks that others would not.  And I'm still here.  I'm still curious, I'm still hungry.  I can be smart, I can be foolish.  I can be wise, I can be naive.  The only difference is now I get to be all these things as a member of AARP. 

As this Lesson is being published on Easter Sunday, I'm going to end with a passage from my favorite poem, "Curiosity", introduced to me in 1989 by a wonderful teacher and educator named Susan Adams Liberati: 

Dogs say cats love too much, are irresponsible,
are changeable, marry too many wives,
desert their children, chill all dinner tables
with tales of their nine lives.
Well, they are lucky. Let them be
nine-lived and contradictory,
curious enough to change, prepared to pay
the cat price, which is to die
and die again and again,
each time with no less pain.
A cat minority of one
is all that can be counted on
to tell the truth. And what cats have to tell
on each return from hell
is this: that dying is what the living do,
that dying is what the loving do,
and that dead dogs are those who do not know
that dying is what, to live, each has to do

 Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707


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