On May 24, 1976, in the midst of America’s bicentennial year, I was unleashed on the world. In my forty years on this earth, I’ve the usual ups and downs, and been through many of the same things as most of you: school; learning to drive; moving out on my own; career changes; the formation and disintegration of friendships and relationships; joy; sorrow. All of these are, for the most part, universal experiences.
Today I’d like to mentions a few things that aren’t quite as common. Over the last few weeks, as I’ve looked back on my life so far, I realized that I’ve done quite a lot. Some things were amazing, some a bit more ordinary, but still interesting. The more I thought about it, the more memories came back to me. From childhood vacations to outdoor adventures to exploring unfamiliar cities, so many experiences…
I’ve watched barges roll up the Savannah River, looking as if they couldn’t possibly squeeze through the narrow channel.
I’ve eaten burritos in San Diego, and low country boil in Charleston.
I’ve watched the sun set in a blaze of glory over red rocks in Arizona, and the moon rise over the mountains in the same place.
I’ve ridden a greyhound bus from Columbia to Athens, witnessing family reunions, broken hearts, and everything in between in the process.
I’ve survived a pair of trips through the Mojave Desert, when it was so hot that reality itself seemed to shimmer under the sun’s brutal glare.
I’ve climbed a waterfall in Ocho Rios, and a mountain in California.
I’ve drank Hurricanes on Bourbon Street as the French Quarter came to life all around me.
I’ve given a best man toast at a wedding on Long Island, then danced to Elvis Presley as the night wound down.
I’ve felt the waters of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans lap at my feet as I stared into the darkness of infinity.
I’ve glided through clouds and looked down at the patchwork of fields and prairies below.
I’ve eaten Juevos Rancheros with green chiles as a gorgeous Santa Fe morning crawled its way toward afternoon.
I’ve stood mere feet away as Metallica threatened to massacre us all with the sheer power of their performance.
I’ve looked down on Manhattan, an urban jungle framed by the Hudson and East Rivers, broken only by the green swath of Central Park from 102 stories above.
I’ve placed my hands inside the handprints of famous actors at Graumans Chinese Theatre and gazed across at the Hollywood sign, perched high in the hills.
I’ve twice driven cross-country, from one end of the United States to the other, marveling at the variety of places, landscapes, and people along the way.
I’ve stood more than 1000 feet below the surface of the Earth and watched as Ruby Falls cascaded to the cavern floor before me.
I’ve leapt to my feet with 90,000 other fans as Rodney Hampton, and Knowshon Moreno, and Todd Gurley raced away from defenders and into legend.
I’ve driven along the “Rim of the World” highway into Big Bear and looked out over the lake from high in the San Bernardino National Forest.
I’ve encountered a fawn, barely big enough to walk, at the edge of the woods in an uninhabited subdivision, and seen a roadrunner dart in front of my car as tumbleweeds drifted across the plains.
I’ve visited Ellis Island, where thousands first entered the country, and the Smithsonian Museum, a living history of the United States.
I’ve hiked deep into Tallulah Gorge, and high above the ocean at Sunset Cliffs.
I’ve seen Dominique Wilkins nail a game-winning three point shot for the Atlanta Hawks, and John Smoltz trot in from the bullpen to close a game for the Braves.
I’ve paid $100 for filet mignon or lobster in fine restaurants, and been just as satisfied with a $2 hot dog from a street vendor.
I’ve seen huge arena shows featuring Black Sabbath, Van Halen, and Soundgarden, and been to tiny clubs to watch Sevendust, and Everclear, and Ministry.
I’ve gotten lost in Atlanta, and had the patrons of the convenience store where I stopped to ask directions jokingly plead with me and my companions “not to rob them.”
I’ve wandered the streets of New York City, Los Angeles, and New Orleans; San Diego, Nashville, and Austin. Each city unique and full of experiences waiting to be had.
I’ve done all of these things. I tell you about them not to try to impress anyone, but to illustrate the true meaning of living. Experience is important. When we reach the twilight of life, I am confident we won’t look back on the things we had, but the things we did. And there is one more thing I’ve done: I’ve spend the last 13 of my 40 years married to my best friend, my love, and my soul mate.
Many of the things listed above would never have happened had I not met Dena. We’ve shared so many adventures over the years; way more good times than bad. If there is one accomplishment I’d like for people to remember, it is that I made the right decision when I asked her to marry me on a June morning in 2003. It is one that I have never regretted, even for a single second.
Thank you for spending a few moments with me on my 40th birthday. I’ve enjoyed every single one of them, and wouldn’t trade the years I’ve had for anything. Until next time…