My father-in-law, Jake, has worked and played hard all his life. He was a machinist, and his job involved heavy lifting, hard sweating, and complex mental absorption. Back in his day, he was a man of brawn and brain.
He married his sister-in-law when he was 24, enduring all the internecine slings and arrows this relationship with his brother-in-law’s ex-wife generated. He accepted his two nieces as his own daughters, and had several more children with his sister-in-law.
Then his wife’s parents died, leaving three children of nonage. He happily took these three underage orphans into his already crowded home, and raised them into adulthood.
In those early days of the Cold War, the aerospace industry was booming, keeping machinists like Jake very busy. His average work week was about 80 hours. And the overtime pay allowed him to support and raise his large extended family, which he did cheerfully and without complaint.
Then he went into business for himself and prospered even more. His machine shop earned a nationwide reputation amongst those who needed the kind of specialty work his shop performed.
He kept very busy within those metal walls of his shop, toiling away long hours, doing the heavy lifts, sweating, straining, and responding daily to all the challenges before him.
And then abruptly at the age of 60, he retired. This man with a busy mind and active body suddenly found himself with nothing to do. But he didn’t twiddle his thumbs for very long.
Jake turned to athletics. He began competing in marathons and triathlons. He put all his mettle into this sport for the fleet of foot, and set world records for his age group.
Not only did he win many trophies and accolades, but his cardiovascular health benefited from this new hobby of his. He was in tip-top aerobic shape.
He was also an avid hiker in his retirement years. He took me with him on several hikes, and I always struggled to keep up with his fast, enduring pace. Sometimes I even had to persuade him to stop and take a break, lest I collapse.
But in his early 70’s Jake had to slow down, and then finally stop. All the heavy lifting from his machinist career, and all that post-retirement marathon running was catching up to him. His joints grew spurs and the discs in his back compressed.
He began using a cane. And now, at age 89, he’s traded the cane for a walker. Yet even with a walker, he is barely able to stay upright. He’s fallen several times and hurt himself, and has had to be helped back up to his feet. He dreads the future. He fears that soon he may be confined to a wheelchair.
Yet his heart, his heart! Oh that marathon heart of Jake’s is as strong as ever! He takes no heart medication, yet his systolic blood pressure reading is often in the 90’s, and his diastolic ranges between 45 and 70.
Poor Jake. He wants to die. He hates living like a cripple. But his heart won’t allow him to die. He’s in chronic kidney failure, and his body is bloated with water. But that marathon heart pumps strong as ever.
The doctor says that cancer may have invaded his body. He coughs a lot, and lives in constant pain. He’s incontinent also, due to stenosis in his spine. And even when he can make it to the toilet, he requires help with his hygiene. It’s very embarrassing for this man who prides himself on being independent. This man with the marathon heart.
And he can’t sleep well. But that strong heart of his won’t allow him to die in his sleep.
Jake is a hero to me. But a hero of the Greco-tragic ilk. Be careful, you marathon runners, or you may end up just like Jake. Your strong heart will force you to endure the humility and helplessness of a crippled body. It will keep you alive through the torture of all kinds of chronic illnesses. And the mercy of the grim reaper will be held at bay, while you cry out in pain and plead for the end, every day and every night.
Relax on the couch and watch TV. Eat potato chips. Allow your cholesterol level and blood pressure to rise through the roof. And persuade that coronary to overtake you now, before it’s too late.
You don’t want to end up like Jake.