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All Points West: Hitting a milestone, plus one
June 24, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
Monday, I turned 51. Half a century plus one. Itís not a hallmark, or a nice round even number. Yet, it coincides with so much. There was a lot that happened the year I was born on Fatherís Day in 1965. While mom was in labor, dad was out celebrating the birth of his third son at the Union Bar. Some of the biggest things to happen that year?

About 35,000 people marched on Washington, D.C., to protest the war in Vietnam. Rioting and civil unrest marred L.A.ís social landscape, while voting rights for African Americans were being sorted out. Kids flocked to stores for the Super Ball and the Skate Board. Skirts got shorter, and hair grew longer. The average cost of a house was $14,000, a new car was $2,650.00, and gas was 31 cents a gallon. NASA prepared and laid the foundation for an eventual moon landing. If the world was experiencing serious social upheaval then and in some cases seemed like it was being ripped apart, think about where weíll be in another 51 years, when Iím 102.

As expected, numerous friends and family members sent well wishes Ė some heartfelt, like the messages from my mother, wife, and daughter. Others wrote meaningful cards or merely pressed the send button after social media reminded them that it was indeed their friend Frankís birthday. I was grateful for all the brief notes and sentiments, as though I have earned some recognition. As one friend put it, Iíve made it through another full rotation around the sun, 51 one of them. Almost 52, if you count the time my mom carried me. On the subject of achievement, I am looking forward to retirement (eligibility starts at 59 and change), but like anyone else, Iíd like to put the brakes on getting old. The golden years concept doesnít apply to physical challenges.

I have been called old and young and everything in between, old as in youíre getting older, which makes it sound as though Iíve been walking up some steep staircase to something, or young as in still having a lot of life left. Thatíd be me, the Energizer Bunny still drumming away. I have been asked how Iím holding up, as if some part of me is about to fall off. Some have commented that I donít look my age. I suspect theyíre being kind. I believe we all have our own idea of how 51 looks and feels. Some days the bones rattle a little louder. Other days, I rage against the dying of the light. I joke to my elders that Iím catching up, and tell my young friends that I could probably still beat them in a long-distance foot race, a mile or two miles these days. All things being fair, Iíve been doing it longer. The grey hair in my beard is telling. The years disappear when I shave it off. Each time the stubble reappears, thereís less color. Then, Iím more adamant about keeping my facial hair as a protest, refusing to use Just for Men, Best Beard Ever.

Turns out, having your birthday land on Monday isnít a bad thing. It basically means that while everyone else is at work, a little goofing off is allowed. But take note, Iím not off the hook that easily.

There is still work to do. The newspaper doesnít write itself. The fact that my birthday landed on the most hated day of the week this year was the impetus for having a party over the weekend, a party that I couldnít have at the true milestone last year because I was away at Guard duty in New Jersey. By rule, everyone should be granted one birthday wish by the federal government. My wish? If someday, the American people are crazy enough to elect me as president, my first order of business would be to draft an executive order making it illegal to work on your birthday.

At my party on Saturday, I reflected on how life has taken me full circle. The end of June marks the anniversary of my return to Gering. In coming back to the old stomping grounds, I figure I had seen enough of the world, the big cities, the unrest in other countries, and all the terrible things people do to each other. All of it made me grateful for my west Nebraska upbringing, the solid values, the direct and practical ways of dealing with life, my salt-of-the-earth mentors, and my home Ė true north if you will.

Donít get me wrong. Thereís more world to explore, and I plan to do it. One of the things I do, at each milestone year, is write down five goals. At 50, some goals carried over from the previous decade. Thereís still time. These things are still doable. 1. Go skydiving. 2. Visit China. 3. Sell my first novel. 4. Compete in a triathlon. 5. Research my Mexican ancestry. Why are all of these things important? Legacy. Iím not talking about world fame, or getting rich, or some profound search for answers, but it will be what I pass along to my daughter and her generation. That means if I or anyone for that matter has the means, skills, wherewithal to affect positive change, and all any of us did was sit still, weíd be squandering those gifts and opportunities.

Itís probably one of the best reasons for celebrating a birthday. In the middle of the celebration, weíre all trying to get a handle on time. A birthday gives us pause. We get some time to catch our breath and look back on where we have been, and what it all means, in a small sense and a large sense. Look at it this way. Your life could be a small pebble tossed into a pond, breaking the placid surface, or a large meteorite screaming toward earth.

Either way, Iím thankful to be alive to wish myself another Happy Birthday.
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