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July 17, 2011

Dying With Your Boots On

by Anne Paddock
My friend, Clif died after he reached the summit of Cho Oyu, the world’s sixth highest mountain at 26,906 feet. On his way down the mountain, Clif was resting in a base camp at 23,000 feet when he told a fellow climber, “I am the happiest man in the world – I have just climbed a beautiful mountain.” He went to sleep and never woke up.

Clif was nearly 72 years old and although many people would be grateful to have lived that long, Clif died too young. He had at least 25 more years to conquer mountains and run marathons judging by his fitness and the longevity in his family. But, those of us who knew Clif well were happy that he died doing what he loved – climbing mountains. No doubt, had he survived he would be climbing Everest next year to claim the title of oldest person to summit this 29,029 foot mountain. As it was he set a record for the oldest American to ever summit Cho Oyu and he died with his boots on.

canstockphoto2325507-1I am reminded of one of my daughter’s favorite movies: Secondhand Lions – a little known flick about two eccentric older men raising their great-nephew who grows up to write a comic strip about the antics of his life with the men that raised him. The story unfolds and at times my heart broke but mostly, I laughed and cheered because the message was to live your life and die with your boots on.  Go out having fun whether you’re 40 or 90.

In our small village in upstate New York, we recently had a group of friends over.  Clif would have been there telling us about a recent climb, an  upcoming climb or his marathon training. Afterwards, my husband and I were sitting at the dinner table with our 15-year old daughter talking about the party and looking at old photo albums. She was particularly interested in the pictures from the mid to late 1980’s. As she turned the pages, she would look at the pictures and then at us and say “wow, mom and dad you were really hot when you were young.” That was a complement, right? Then she delivered the coup de grace: “I kept thinking that you both were just middle-aged parents having cocktail parties for old people.”  A friend once told me that God makes your kids look like you so when you feel like throwing them out the window, you think twice. “Ensures the survival of the species,” she said.

I started thinking about my daughter’s comments and later turned to my husband and said “we need to have more fun as a family.”  But how do we all have fun together when we have such diverse interests? My husband likes to fly planes, ride his Harley, scuba dive  – pretty much anything that has an element of danger to it.  I prefer to run, bike, read, write, bake and cook – pretty much anything that keeps me close to the ground. My daughter prefers sleeping late, reading, music, swimming, and being with her friends. No common denominator there.

Whenever we travel to a new city, we are always trying to figure out how to accommodate personal preferences. My husband prefers metros: I like to walk and see a city; and our daughter prefers taxis.  But recently on a trip to Boston the three of us went on a bike tour of the city and afterwards we all agreed, the tour was a blast. Why did it take us so long to figure out we enjoy seeing a new place on bicycles? Better late than never.  So, in pursuit of fun together, we decided to plan a bike trip through Vietnam and Cambodia – two countries we haven’t seen. We want to have fun together and take all life has to give.  And, I…well, I would like to die with my boots on, like my friend, Clif.   

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