On New Year’s Eve I celebrated my 75th birthday. Being in general good health and good spirits, keeping busy but not overburdened with one fun thing and another, enjoying the friendship of good people from every stage of my life, and being close in proximity and devotion to my family, it was a day of great enjoyment.
So-called “big birthdays” like three-quarters of a century are both eventful and mundane. They are “just another day” if viewed as the 27,393rd of them; or a fluke of our numbering system which in say a base-12 arrangement would have no special meaning at all.
But of course we don’t signify our lives by the day or divide it by base-12: it’s years, and 75 is a big, round number of them that can’t help but inspire big, round thoughts.
The biggest of which was: How lucky I am.
Lucky to have been the child of caring, responsible parents who nonetheless left me alone to make my own way in the world.
Lucky to have grown up in the plenitude of 1950s America – a time and place of the greatest safety, security, and prosperity ever known – and in a suburb within easy commuting distance of Manhattan when it was the center of the universe. My chums and I could jump on the train and be at Grand Central (one of the world’s great civic structures) in half an hour, and from there walk 15 minutes to Times Square to see the premiere of “Ben-Hur” or “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in one of the fabulous midtown movie palaces.
Lucky never to experience anti-Semitism, a statement that over the last two millennia only someone in my generation who lived in big American cities like New York and Chicago could probably make.
Lucky to be the youngest of three brothers growing up in a pleasant, leafy suburb, where I could walk to school and on weekends ride my bike all day and duck back into the always unlocked house to grab a snack or a meal any time.
Lucky to have been sent to summer camps in Vermont and Maine, to experience the wonders of nature and the boyhood friendships that can last a lifetime.
Lucky to have come in 1963 to Chicago, still “the city that worked,” and to attend University of Illinois when tuition was less than a hundred dollars per quarter.
Lucky to have gotten a part-time job during college working at the Sun-Times/Daily News building, where my love affair with journalism was kindled by the daily rumble of the presses in the basement.
Lucky to have had a family violin I could use to start lessons at the age of 19, and thus (now for more than half a century) experience that greatest of communal glories, making music.
Lucky to have spent a junior year abroad in London, living with a British family and exploring the great metropolis – teeming with life and rich in history, culture, and commerce – as well as traveling to Moscow, Leningrad, and Warsaw over winter break; and hitchhiking through half a dozen countries in the spring and summer.
Lucky to have met my future wife in Lincoln Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in June 1971, while she was wandering past the Waveland tennis courts trying out a new camera and I was hovering nearby looking for a tennis game. I took one look at her and struck up a conversation and partnership that have lasted half a century. As I have often told our kids, if either of us had arrived there a few minutes sooner or later, we would never have met. Funny how formative a role luck plays in our lives.
Lucky to have two wonderful kids who care for us and whom we admire and adore. And a wonderful grandson with whom to read “Harry Potter” every night.
Lucky to be healthy enough to chase after Frisbees with my son every nice day we can. I told him once that should I keel over from the exertion, it would have been a fine way to go.
Lucky to be in the mainstream of temperament and intelligence, not so smart and jaded that I grow bored with the world, but smart enough to appreciate the humor and ever-astonishing spectrum of people and the beauty and ever-astonishing spectacle of nature – and the knowledge that my luck comes from privilege as well.
Lucky mostly to have the good sense to appreciate my luck. That’s the birthday present I gave myself: the realization that luck has given me a passport to enjoy life, which I have been lucky enough to use to the fullest.