Plan B: August 8, 2016

Today I am supposed to be celebrating a successful summit of 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier in Washington State. Instead I’m sitting in the Corvallis Clinic Radiology Department waiting for a MRI of my left foot. A stress fracture is suspected, or torn ligaments. Either way, the bottom line is the same — doctor’s orders, no climb.

Besides feeling frustrated by this plot twist — I trained for months to be ready — I have had moments of feeling . . . well, old. I recently turned 65, which is a benchmark year. In my youth, benchmark years were measured in pluses, positive additions to my life: 16 and I could drive, 18 and I could vote, 21 and I could legally have a beer with dinner. Then, at some point the value-added benchmarks became more vague, ambiguous. A first career-type job, for example, can happen at a variety of ages. Ditto for a longterm relationship, buying a home, having a kid, and so on. But turning 65 is neither vague nor ambiguous; it is a benchmark that loudly proclaims in a brutal reality-check: “No matter how you slant it, dude, you ain’t young any more!”

And yet, despite this fact, and the hobbling injury to my foot and resulting no-go from my doc, plus the Medicare card I now carry in my billfold, the moments of feeling old are far outweighed by something an MRI doesn’t detect — gratitude. Gratitude that I will heal, and be back to try Mt. Rainier again. Gratitude for 42 years of marriage to Debbie, who lights up my life in countless ways. Gratitude for my amazing daughters, Kelsey and Amy, my son-in-law Alex, and my new grandson Griffin Thomas. Gratitude for extended family, a wealth of friends, and my job teaching creative writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. And gratitude that I get to pour myself into writing stories for kids and young adults.

Bottom line: I am a very lucky man, living a life of privilege stacked upon privilege. Hopefully I do this gift justice — that is the summit I push for every day.

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