The best birthday yet…Flightline and all

My birthday was Sunday. I was 61. Sixty-one years old! You believe it? As the old joke goes: “If I’d known I was going to live so long I would have taken better care of myself.” But what the hell. I made it to six decades and a minute.

And this birthday was the best. We decided, my family and I, to celebrate the day before birthday Sunday by going to the San Diego Safari Zoo where the animals run pretty much free and they have a new attraction, “The Flightline.”

In essence the “Flightline” is a zip line, where you’re harnessed into a secure, portable seat that is hooked to a line above your head. Then, you take off for nearly a mile over the entire park. It’s the closest thing to flying you will ever get, and it’s terrific. And petrifying.

I must admit that when I stepped out on the platform and looked down, realizing I am a couple hundred feet above the ground with nothing between me and a certain splat with Mother Earth, but this little portable seat and the harness hooked into the line, it’s time for the serenity prayer. In fact, many serenity prayers said out loud over and over again.

I looked over at my wife and said the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I said this out loud, pleading with my wife to join in. She’s tough. She smiled that calm smile to let me know it was going to be OK.

But I was scared, no question. Then, I was off. Screaming down this line, flying over terrain populated with lions, tigers and well, no bears, but there were a lot of other exotic animals right below.

But what a thrill. You can say that again, what a thrill. I mean it. Once I was going, it was something.

Now when you take off, it’s like a bat out of hell. You’re moving. And then suddenly, the wind changed and began to turn me a bit, so I was now flying sideways down the line. That made things even more interesting. Also, I started last from my group, which was just my family, but I began to pick up speed, and began to move quickly by all of them, sideways. It was scary. But what a thrill. It really was.

It’s amazing when you think about it: I was with my wife of a quarter-century, my two grown sons, screaming down this Flightline, and loving every minute of it. There is no reason for life but for the experience found deep inside the middle of relationships.

You know at the end of this day, I realized yet again that I have never been any good at relationships. I have always been awkward; I mean what do you say after you say “hello.” I’ve never understood rejection, other than it hurts like hell. And when you get past the pain, the questions invade your mind: What did I do? Anything? Nothing? Was I Wrong? Was I Right?

Ahhh, who cares. Just thinking about it wears me out.

This past weekend, though, there was no awkwardness. No right. No wrong. Just four people connected by marriage and birth. Four people, almost as one, flying down this zipline in great joy, laughter and the very reason we live. To be together in a way that eliminates the egos, not trying to get noticed, jockeying for position, Just being; four as one. Just being. Four as one.

You are part of a herd.

I am a 61-year-old man, flawed, scarred and marred by weakness rooted in ambition of self-serving grandiosity. I’m also a nice fella with kindness in my heart. But for one day this past weekend, none of that mattered. It was four as one celebrating every sixth decade and the minute that followed: My birthday. And let me tell you it was well worth the price of admission.

I thank all of you for that.

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About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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