FLINT - In my darkened bedroom, I am watching the digital clock on my computer in its relentless march toward midnight.
And 50. Finally. I've been waiting for this birthday dreading it a little, too - for the past six months. Now that it's here maybe I can finally leave it behind.
I'm not much of a milestone guy, but 50 is indisputably a big one. If I remember my grade school astronomy correctly, that means I've now circled 'ol Sol 50 times now. It also means I'm officially old enough to get away with hopelessly geeky terms like "'ol Sol," which is both frightening and liberating.
Some people breeze right on by life's signposts like this with nary a glance. I confess I'm incapable of doing that. Fifty is no small thing to me, and it has nothing to do with vanity (the prospect of gray hair doesn't bother me nearly as much as the idea of gray thinking.) No, my concern is familial. Neither of my grandfathers lived to see 70. My dad died at 60. My youngest brother died at 40.
I don't mention that to be maudlin. I'm a big believer that you make your own destiny, and that I'll be as old as I'm supposed to be when I follow them into the hereafter. The way I see it, 90 is a nice round number. It's old enough to have seen and done most things, not so old that others are going to have to take care of me. That I wouldn't like. There's a greeting card that's supposed to be funny that goes, "I want to live long enough to be a burden to everyone around me." I couldn't disagree more. When my sponge is wrung dry, I'd rather depart - and swiftly if anyone up there or out there is taking requests. Burdens are for pack mules.
All of that said, while I try not to dwell on my family tree's past, reality is reality, and the Heller history obviously can't be ignored. So I do the things I'm supposed to do - exercise, take aspirin and statins, try not to stress out (sometimes easier said than done) - and leave the rest to chance. I don't want to live life looking in the rearview mirror. That's a sure way to crash.
That's one of the few things I've learned in 50 years. Here's another: Perfection isn't possible and if you try to achieve it you'll drive yourself nuts. I learned that in a song. Scoff if you want.
My generation wasn't raised on philosophers or beat poets. My generation was raised on rock and pop, so it's probably inevitable that my 50-year-old brain has become a repository for song lyrics, both silly and profound. (An example of the silly: For some reason, and to my horror, I remember the words to "Afternoon Delight." And the scariest part is I'm afraid they're stuck in there forever, curse you Starland Vocal Band.)
Anyway, one of my favorite non-stupid lines from a song goes, "Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy."
If you're anywhere near my age, you recognize those words from the Eagles' classic song, "Take It Easy." I realize they may have meant them to mean something entirely different than what I take them to mean - for all I know their entire purpose was to encourage a girl into a one-night stand.
But the great thing about both music and lyrics is that they mean whatever the listener thinks they mean, and in this case I take that line to mean that you can't do something well and watch yourself doing it at the same time, whether it's writing or hugging someone or sawing a tree. That's always struck me as a fine philosophy for living. So I'm going to keep on doing that - better, hopefully, than I have in the past.
Yes, there have been times when I've been too much of a wheel-listener/watcher. Maybe it's something we all do. Life's hard knocks make the best of us cautious over time.
But I'd like to think I'm going to spend what I intend to be the second half of my life not worrying about past mistakes or even future ones. Frankly, I don't have the time. If there's any good thing about aging, it's that it sharpens your focus.
So rather than listening to my own wheels spin - or the numbers on my digital clock turn - my intent is to just go along as I think I should, accept it when I screw up, keep a sense of humor about it all, and trust that when I get to the end I'll be able to look back and say, "Hey, not bad."
Not bad at all.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.