I write mostly about cars, but this is still a personal blog. Excuse me while I think out loud, sort of.
I alluded to it in my previous post here: the abrupt death last week of my Dutch Saab mate, Nic Schellekens, has really rocked my puny little world. Nic was 52. My Dad was 52 when he passed away back in 1985. Nic’s passing has shown me just how young my Dad was when he passed away. I was only 15 at the time so I didn’t really understand. 52 was pretty old to me back then. At 42, as I am now, it doesn’t seem that old at all.
I saw Nic in person just last year and we’d chat on Skype or email with reasonable regularity. He was young and vigorous and whilst he had recently received some troubling medical news, my last correspondence with him just a few days before he died showed all the usual energy and determination that was Nic’s calling card. Cancer didn’t kill Nic. I’ve since learned that it was a pulmonary embolism, which explains why it was so sudden, so unexpected and so cruel to all his loved ones.
Stuff like this makes you think. It makes you sit back and take stock a little. Nic and I lived very different lives. His was one of service and skill, both in the armed forces and in the private sector. He lived and worked in places I’d be too scared to even fly over. He pushed himself, got the best from himself and gave the best of himself to everyone around him.
I’m not going to put Nic on a pedestal and myself in a pit. I’ve given of myself, too, but in different ways and definitely not to the extent that Nic did, but I have given. Some people have it in them to give everything. They have no fear. They’ve seen the other side – acceptance or rejection – have weathered its flames and the thought of going back there doesn’t sway them. Some find that harder. I’m one of them.
I treasure the true friends that I have because they’re few in number and I’m not very good at making new ones. I find it hard to give what Nic gave. I can talk about cars and football all day long but I’m not too skilled at small talk and I’m not very patient with people I see as being foolish (sadly, that’s more people than you’d expect (but it’s not you, I promise)). Some people care about everybody. Sometimes I wish I was one of them but I fall well short of that mark.
I guess the next thing is to contemplate what Nic’s legacy will be for me. Nic’s legacy in general isn’t for me to determine. That’s for his loved ones and his community back in Europe. But those of us who knew him personally can each make our own deliberations as to what his life meant to us individually.
My Dad’s passing at 52 put the fear of that age into me way back in my teens. Nic’s passing at the same age has reinforced that to some degree. I used to think that every day beyond 52 would be a bonus for me but with that age just 10 years away, those thoughts seem foolish. Bottom line: there’s way too much to live for and you’re a mug if you give the reaper a better-then-even chance. Shit happens sometimes and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about that, but you don’t have to carry a bucket of it with you, waiting for someone or something to tip it over your head.
Nic’s legacy to me, then, is to try and be a better person, like he was a better person.
My entire life has been an open invitation for either cancer or heart disease to come and do its thing. My eating habits used to be absolutely atrocious. They’re barely passable now, but they’ve improved remarkably and I’ve lost nearly 15 kilos in the last 6 months or so as I’ve added regular gym workouts to my regime. I’m going to keep that up in order to ensure that I’ve got enough time to complete my mission.
My personality’s not likely to change. I’m still going to be a grumpy old man right up to the time when I AM an old man. I’m still going to think critically and I’m still going to say what I think when the moment calls for it. But maybe I can stop saying what I think when all I’m really doing is trying to make noise.
I’m not going to be some sort of social butterfly all of a sudden but maybe I can be a better friend to those people who have the good grace to put up with my crap. It’s loose and undefined but I am part of a community of sorts and maybe I can play a better role in that. Carry my weight a little more. Let the people in that community know that they mean something to me.
The hardest part is going to be chasing the dreams that my wife and I have for our lives. We’ve both got secure and (relatively) stable jobs right now. I hate mine, however, and she’d rather be painting. It’s going to take a lot to cut the cord on those, but one thing I learned from thinking about Nic this week is that he ended up chasing – and getting – the life he was born to. He was true to himself despite what must have been some difficult times.
I’d like to chase my dreams and live my life with the same vigour, commitment and honesty that I saw Nic exhibit in his. I don’t know if I have the intestinal fortitude to actually do that, but I read somewhere once that life’s not a dress rehearsal and I believe that to be true.
I think PJ and I can live closer to our ideal and still live fruitful lives. We’re not rocket scientists or brain surgeons. We’re not going to save the world. Hopefully, though, we can contribute something to people who share our interests. Hopefully we can make real connections with the people around us and contributions to their lives because after all, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
It sounds a little cliche but they’re only cliches because they’re true: I’m going to miss Nic more than I can say. I never realised just how much I liked the old bastard until he was gone and that’s a massive shame on me. The least I can and should do is take note of his example after his death – one that I should have taken while he was alive.
I don’t want to miss opportunities like that ever again.