The Sky Is Falling:
Happy Mother's Day

When I left my apartment for a pleasant afternoon stroll, my plan was simply to call my mother and grandmother to wish them a happy pink bat day. I've been paying just enough attention to baseball to know that my Mets will be swinging the pink bats from first place today, in support of breast cancer research and awareness. My mom and grandmother are most of what's left of my family, as many have died from cancer, old age, and whatnot. So the news that one of the nicest people in the entire world, who happened to be my cousin, passed away at three this morning, was neither welcome nor surprising.

But this news didn't preclude having an otherwise pleasant conversation. So I chatted with my mom about tennis, and music, and baseball, and autism. Our rambling conversation was interrupted by a screaming little boy. A strong breeze had blown his hat into the middle of the street. I raced across the street to scoop up his hat to discourage him from running into oncoming traffic. I guess I set a poor example, but at least no one got hit by a car. The boy's father scolded him for yelling instead of saying something coherent, like "Dad, I lost my hat, would you get it for me?" The kid was like four, so the mere fact that the kid didn't actually run out into the intersection himself seemed like a big plus.

I kept walking and talking, making a full circuit around my building. I was about to get off the phone and go inside my building when I heard more screaming. Something made of blue glass had shattered and spread over a forty foot area. Two women checked their dogs' feet for splinters in their paws. A third woman was raving about how the glass object had missed her head by millimeters. I looked up to see a window open further than its usual range (you need a key to open the windows in my building). It appeared that the vase had come from the twenty-fifth floor.

Building security seemed disinterested, but the maintenance department was efficient in their response. The woman whose head was nearly bashed in was naturally quite upset. She called the police and was demanding action from maintenance or security. I told them what I had seen and they found the apartment the glass had fallen from. Presumably it was an accident, but that's just speculation on my part. What I am certain about is the uncertainty of life, particularly regarding its duration. Kids get hit by cars, adults get cracked in the head with flower pots, and older people get sick and die. But sometimes they don't.


Today is my birthday. I'm thirty-one, which technically qualifies as thirty-"something". Do I feel like I'm getting older? Not so much. I mean, yes, the gap between the present moment and the day I was born is constantly expanding. But the sense of my own mortality, the crushing weight of time, the feeling that my accomplishments thus far are somehow insufficient... well, I left those back in my twenties.

I remember feeling so old when I turned twenty. I also felt like a failure because I was neither the centerfielder for the New York Mets, nor the lead guitarist in a hugely successful rock band. Perhaps I had set my expectations too high. As a kid, my favorite athlete was Dwight Gooden. He won the Rookie of the Year when he was 19, the Cy Young award when he was 20, and a World Championship when he was 21. There wasn't much room for improvement, but plenty of room for a precipitous fall. Metallica were in their late teens/early twenties when they recorded and released their first three albums. They were closer to thirty by the time they became ridiculously huge, but the root of their popularity was established early on.

This is hardly the only path to success (where ever that is). Jimmy Page was twenty-eight* when he started Led Zeppelin. Page Hamilton was thirty when he formed Helmet. So I'll borrow something from their book, and see what I can get done at this point in my life. Speaking of pages, Lillian Jackson Braun returned to being a successful mystery writer at seventy-three. Sure, she published three novels in her fifties, but her life demonstrates as well as anyone's that the potential to break through in a new field is not firmly limited by age.

I still set my long term goals on the absurdly high scale. Yes, I would like to play $2,000/4,000 online and at the Bellagio. And be the best player at the table. And that's probably the most easily attainable of my major goals. But there's a difference between goals and expectations. Expectations must exist in a range. Just like poker, outcomes in life are governed by skill and chance. A given effort can produce a range of results. Anyone who thinks that will alone can effect an outcome is either delusional or a wizard. And as much as I want to believe in magic... I'll stick to setting my goals high, putting forth my best effort, and watching the chips fall where they may.

* It turns out Page was twenty-four when he started Led Zeppelin. My bad.