A Big Milestone In This Life

Like most of you, my life has been full of milestones: graduations (four), marriages (two), professional highlights/low lights (more of the former than latter), children’s births (17 counting 11 grandchildren), divorce (one), deep, spooky valleys (more than my share), high, exhilarating peaks (more than my share), and birthdays (80 as of June 2).

Eighty is that enigmatic age that had always felt so far away, at least until the 70s came rushing past at a dizzying pace — and suddenly you’re there. You read about your friends and acquaintances dying off, and not so subconsciously note that most of them are in their late 70s or early to mid-80s, so at least you’ve outlasted half of them … which, I guess, just makes you average, no matter how you feel about it.

The past two years I have flown to California three times specifically to eulogize close friends I’d known since high school. If nothing else, this has made me much more aware of my life priorities. I just resisted writing “in the time I have left” because I don’t want to over emphasize the finite nature of these later years.

A few years ago, after speaking to a large and appreciative audience of state clerical workers, mostly women, a sweet little lady near retirement age approached me: “Capt. Coffee, God has blessed me to see his angels, and I must say I see legions of angels hovering around you to protect you. God must love you very, very much to give you so many of his angels to watch over you.”

I believe her, and I revel in the protection of my angels every day.

Yes, at that point I had survived three years of competitive downhill ski racing and ski jumping in college; more than 200 day and night, all-weather aircraft carrier landings in high-performance jet fighters; two high-speed ejections from Navy jets — one after being hit by anti-aircraft fire, totally out of control at more than 600 mph; seven years of physical and mental torture in a Vietnamese communist prison; three heart attacks; one angioplasty; two bypass surgeries … and a partridge in a pear tree! I think I’ve kept my angels pretty busy!

Angels notwithstanding, I am convinced I’ve gone through about six of my nine lives so far, and look forward to “burning out” going up, whenever that may be. For me, “going up” means staying active in my church, possibly more short-term missions to Swaziland, staying in as good physical shape as possible, to continue sharing my speaking message of “the Invincibility of the Human Spirit,” maybe becoming a docent at the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island (I haven’t told them yet), writing another book, “being there” more for my children and grandchildren, and little by little, taking care of our “bucket list” with wife Susan. And we may never get to the bottom.

My family and I are so blessed.

Susan and I live our lives in a perpetual state of grace and gratitude, and firmly believe in talk-show host Dennis Prager’s assertion that “happiness is directly proportional to gratitude” — and that makes us two of the happiest people we know.

Hmm, I wonder what 90 is gonna make me think about?