I met a man named Norman in a bar at Reagan National Airport Sunday. We were both on our way home from celebrations of life. Of sorts. He had turned 67 three days earlier and was returning from checking off the first item on his bucket list and he wanted to tell someone about it.
Norman grew up in small town in Virginia and had always wanted to sail. For no good reason in particular he never learned. On his 66th birthday Norman decided he was going to start living the life he wanted to live before he could think to make another excuse.
“You never know how much time you have,” he said. “I don’t even buy green bananas these days.”
So Norman began planning and saving for the big kick off event at 67. Next up he is traveling to Johannesburg, South Africa. Then drinking champagne in Paris because he always wanted to. Norman intends to burn every dime he has to his name before he dies. Because he worked hard for every single one of them and he doesn’t want to waste his life saving for a future he never had.
“I told my son, ‘My last check is going to bounce,’” he smiled. And then he bought a round a drinks.
Talking to Norman was wonderful. I told him so. Because that is not the type of thing you should carry around with you longer than you have to.
Norman asked about my own travels. I was on a layover from Boston – my hometown. Coming back from an official Life is Good party. The type of event where you toast to being on the right side of the grass – even if the clouds come and your toes freeze on the lawn. Because it is kind of awesome to watch your dad force a party tent into submission in the backyard; to help your mom wipe dust from picture frames that no one else would have noticed; and watch your brother hold his own in conversation without any demons at his back.
At the party I talked with a woman who lost her husband a decade earlier to cancer. It ripped his throat right out. Took his words. And his retirement years. “At first it felt like he was away on one of his business trips,” she said. He just never got to come home.
She was smiling when she spoke of him. I don’t think I smiled back. Because I was remembering when my dad took me to visit him for the last time. He was very different from the man who first taught me how to pitch, catch, and hit a softball. Or at least – he taught me how to stand up at the plate and not expect to strike out every time.
After Norman left to board his flight another man took his seat at the bar. He was from Alaska. I don’t remember his name. I just recall it didn’t match his face. He lived on the coast and had 40 miles of roads to travel before they surrendered to the mountains. They just stopped, he said. There was no point trying to go any further inland. There was nothing there but snow.
During the winters he scuba dives in search of shipwrecks off the coast. Most of boats went down in the early 1900s and their wreckage has been picked over by divers scavenging for old ship bells. One boat has never been located. It is buried somewhere in the muck, transforming the ocean floor with its shadows and hiding places. He goes in search of it on weekends. Hoping for clear waters and a little luck. He doesn’t have a bell yet, he said. But he’s going to keep trying.