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20 December 1996, dawned clear and cold. My father, a runner for 40 years, woke early, laced up his shoes and hit the bike path near the cottage he shared with my mother. Less than an hour later, two policemen knocked on the door and asked my mom if her husband had been out for a run. At that point she’d been a widow for 43 minutes, and I was a fatherless son. He’d barely reached his life expectancy. I can look back now with a little less emotion, a little more clarity, on that moment in my life. I did some things right and some things wrong; so did my dad.
Exercise ≠ immortality, part 1
My dad and I were out for a run together about a month before he died, and he recounted an experience he’d had recently, when he fainted while running. Neither of us thought much of it, because, hey, he was in great shape. And so he was. He was also in need of immediate medical intervention. Death is an adversary worth respecting and fighting. But first you have to open your eyes.
If you don’t autopsy, you’ll never know
In those first gut-wrenching days when my father’s body lay in the morgue, my three brothers and I wanted him to rest in peace, not pieces – to let the crematorium flames complete the journey from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We didn’t ask for an autopsy, so we don’t know what killed him – heart attack, stroke, aneurysm? – nor do we know the extent of our own vulnerabilities.
Harvest the stories
At the memorial service, I asked my dad’s colleagues what they remembered about him. I learned how my dad, an accountant for General Electric, had volunteered to save the ill-fated pension fund for Methodist ministers. Life is a narrative; fill in the story line so you understand it – whether the ending is good or bad.
Exercise ≠ immortality, part 2
Not long before my dad’s last run, he showed me a chart by his hero, the running guru George Sheehan. The graphed lines showed two paths – one for exercisers, one for the sedentary. Both ended at roughly the same point, but the active people soared to their end. They weren’t immortal; but they were more vibrant, engaged, energetic, alive. My dad lived every minute. I intend to as well.
– Peter Moore.