This I Believe

Fred - Southampton, New York
Entered on May 8, 2007

This I Believe

I believe in the fullness of life. In my seventieth year, I believe in bench-pressing at the gym with sturdy guys half my age. I believe in getting out on my bike for thirty or forty miles, sopping up the sun along the beach road on a crisp spring day. I believe in serving my community as a volunteer fireman and shoving myself out of bed at 2 a.m. when the pager goes off. And the next day, when my feet and ankles ache, when my hands are numb and the muscles drum-tight across my back, when fatigue shuts me down for the afternoon, I believe it was worth it, and I’d do it again.

I never wake up feeling like an old man. I wake up feeling like the guy I always was and wanting to do the things I’ve always done. I want to read, I want to bike, I want to write, I want to watch slim, fit women in tight outfits at the gym.

A year or so ago I joined the Southampton (Volunteer) Fire Department, its oldest rookie on record. At 68, I survived the demanding training to become a full-fledged firefighter, qualified to enter a burning building. I haven’t actually done that (my job is fire police) but I have entered a blue-collar, tribal culture that regularly delivers the most impressive form of community service I’ve ever encountered. I’ve known school board chairmen, church elders, presidents of libraries, directors of charities. None of them shouldered the life-or-death responsibility that our three chiefs routinely carry, much less put in the punishing hours. I am awed . . . proud to be part of that effort.

Last year I turned out for 141 fire calls, the vast majority of no great moment. I don’t separate my fire department service from my working out and lifting weights, which I try to do three times a week. (To the contrary, the department pays the dues for all of us at a fancy, first-rate gym.) Nor do I separate either of those efforts from my joining a writing workshop and, wonder of wonders, writing a one-act play for the first time in my life. That amazing achievement (well, I was amazed) I bracket together with finally bench-pressing my weight, which I managed to hoist the day I turned 68. (If you have to know, it was 205 pounds.)

The pumping iron has bumped my jacket size from a 42 to a 46. The fire service, the biking, the reading, the writing (did I mention the kayaking?) have kept me alive.