By Jon F. Merz
Over this past weekend at the 15th and final New England Warrior Camp, I had the chance to talk to a lot of folks. Some of them I’ve known for many years and some are recent acquaintances. During one of the conversations with a more recent acquaintance, the subject of me doing the GORUCK Challenge came up. In one breath, this person said to me, “Dude, that’s very badass that you’re doing it.” And in the next breath, he asked, “Why?”
When I pressed him a little further, he said he understood that it was cool and everything, but given that I’ll be 43 years old this month (three days prior to GORUCK), he wanted to know why I am doing the Challenge now.
I get it.
Society has a tendency to condition you if you let it. Each and every day, we’re bombarded by sights, sounds, and ideals of how most people think we ought to live. And at 43, according to society, I should probably be approaching middle age with some degree of slowing down as my body gets older and my hair lightens a bit more. My boys aren’t babies anymore. I should be enjoying the middle stage of my life, with its somewhat relaxed pace, and possibly even start preparing myself for later life.
To hell with that.
My father passed when he was 48 years old. That’s five years from now. His father died at about the same age. To say that doesn’t weigh on my mind would be lying as badly as Romney. I think about it all the time. Now granted, both my father and grandfather were lifelong smokers (my father eventually quit after his first heart attack) and that no doubt played a major role in their deaths. I don’t smoke. And I exercise and try to take care of myself, within reason.
A lot of my contemporaries in the writing industry are within a few years of my age. In recent weeks, one of them has been operated on for an advanced brain tumor; two others have had heart attacks; and several others have pretty much openly stated that their forties are a real drag and added some incessant whining about various life factors that pretty much make me want to puke.
My view on life has always been that it shouldn’t be this bubble you live in, trying your damnedest to get to the end with an immaculate body. You need scars. You need danger. You need adrenaline. Why? Because those things – those instances when you push the envelope and put yourself into the crucible – they make you appreciate the treasures that you do have in your life. It’s in those moments – those spaces of time when you stand at the brink and literally stare down death, or injury, or your own previous preconceptions about what you could and could not do – that you see the flow of life as no one else does. In the blink of an eye, it’s over. But in the wake, you feel that pulse – that genuine flux of life and death twisting together, melting, melding into the vortex where your reality – your life – shines through without any distraction. In that instance, you see your soul naked and exposed in the brilliance of truth.
When my time comes – and there have been many times already when I thought I might be checking out – I don’t want to look back and think, “Well, that was safe.” I want to go out laughing at all the fun I had, all the love I experienced, all the pain, all the sadness, all the risk, all the failure, all the reward – everything. I want to do things – anything that piques my interest – at whatever age of life I happen to come across them. I don’t want to be hampered by what society thinks I should be doing. I want to do what I want to do.
Those who know me well, know that my general philosophy on life is this: train hard, fight hard, party hard.
The notion of “safe” for me is a death sentence. I tried “safe” up until I was about fifteen years old. Safe didn’t work for me. Safe didn’t prepare me for bullies or love or anything else it supposedly promised.
Risky, on the other hand, that was some serious fun. I’m not talking stupid (although I did enough of that as well – turns out Stupid is the delinquent step-brother of Risky – who knew?) but risk undertaken with intelligence.
That’s where I live.
So yes, I’ll be a 43 year old man doing the GORUCK Challenge. I’m sure there will be folks on the team half my age. I hope they have a blast. I did things like GORUCK back then as well and I enjoyed the suck. For me, doing the Challenge isn’t about having some midlife crisis; if I didn’t do the Challenge and resigned myself to some lazy ideal of a gradually slowing down lifestyle, THAT would be a midlife crisis for me.
Let others allow the onslaught of time to wear them down and pigeonhole them into some lackadaisical shuffleboard experience. For me, the future isn’t about scaling back – it’s about warp speed toward more challenges, more excitement, more fun.
Is that badassery? It might be. I don’t really care.
To me, it’s life.