Boomer Unchained: Appreciating Life
Our lives are fleeting.
I learned a memorable lesson about what is most important in life while on a recent week-long trip with Peter to London, England.
The focus of our travels was to observe the 123rd annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, which takes place on the first Sunday in November. I had not heard of it, but it was a favorite of Peter’s for years when he lived in London in the ‘90s. He is an antique-British-car buff and so is his son Ben, who now lives and works in London. The plan was that Peter and I would meet up with Ben and watch the beginning of this amazing car ‘run.’ I say ‘run’ rather than ‘race’ because the cars are all over 100 years old and lucky to even finish the 60-mile distance. In fact, only cars manufactured before 1905 are eligible to enter.
The race, dating back to 1896, is in celebration of the passage of British law replacing an earlier one that limited the speed of cars to a mere 4 miles per hour and that required a person walk in front of the vehicle with a flag warning people a car was coming.
In the 2019 run, there were more than 400 cars, a couple steam-driven, one electric-driven, some with drive chains fully visible, others with wooden wheels, but mostly all with internal combustion engines with one or two cylinders, and many looking truly like “horseless carriages.” We got to see them both on Saturday and on Sunday. On Saturday, many of them were lined up on Regent Street, and despite a chilly drizzle, thousands of people, including us, were in attendance.
On Sunday, the start of the run was at 6 a.m. and we were there at the starting line, bundled up for a crisp and clear 40 degrees. The rain was gone and the sky was still dark when we began our walk from our hotel in South Kensington at 5:30 a.m. to the banks of the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It was as if I had stepped back into Downton Abbey as drivers and their riders, dressed in period gear, revved up their old vehicles. Sounds of chugging, clinking, putt-putt-putting, scraping of gears, grumbling of engines, and tooting of horns rose into the atmosphere. Exhaust filled my lungs. I was thrilled. Peter took video after video with his smart phone and Ben looked on, happy to be sharing the event with his dad, once again. It had been several years of a hiatus since they last attended the event together. I was mesmerized, and could not believe that so many cars were built before 1900, and that so many of them are running now. I felt Peter’s joy at being able to attend the event, and to share his happiness with his son – the joy of being with our children. I feel that joy myself every time I am with my adult sons who live and work in the San Francisco Bay area. I also felt the joy of being included by Peter and his son.
Enjoy the Moments
That’s part of what my lesson was on this trip, but not all of it. That part is remembering not to take any moment for granted that we can share with those we love, especially grown children who have lives of their own, making their way in the world, and who can’t be with us like they were when they were small, to remember to accept them for who they are and not to judge. I learn that lesson from Peter, who has five children and who is the most caring parent I’ve ever met. The joy on his face with any one of them can move me to tears.
But there was more piece to this lesson I learned on that trip, which is how life is fleeting, how more evident that is as we age, and how we have to appreciate every moment. Just as those old cars are maintained through endless care and love, so must we be.
On one evening of our short trip, we visited some old friends of mine who I’ve known since 1982. They are English and live in London, but for many years lived in California where we met, and where our sons met in kindergarten and then grew up together.
We had spent years taking our sons hiking and camping in California. And, if nothing else, that’s one thing I remember about this couple, they are hikers, campers, and generally active people. David rode his bicycle to work and Diana always was doing something physical - walking or working in the garden, pitching a tent or cooking over a campfire. Our favorite shared experiences were always in the outdoors.
We have visited each other over the years, whether in England, California, or even in Delaware, but haven’t seen each other in eight years. That was the last time I visited them in England when we walked in Cumbria, took a canoe out on a lake, and visited a castle. I don’t think of any of us as old. I think of us as hiking a trail in Yosemite, laughing over a glass of wine, and even discussing politics. But when I saw them on this trip, our ages and the vulnerability of our lives hit me. I’m 69 and Peter and my English friends are in their 70s. We aren’t young anymore. We aren’t as strong and healthy as we used to be. We have medical issues, evident to others, or not. I realized I can’t go another eight years before seeing this couple, who used to be so much a part of my life when our children were young.
“We used to be like family,” David said to me, reminding me how once when he was with the four boys at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, someone thought they were all his.
Once back in Delaware, I met up with Marjorie for a walk on the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. The first thing I asked was how our friends locally are doing, and what’s been happening while I was gone for a short week. One friend had to have several medical tests, another got an injection for pain in her back and leg, a few others are maintaining fragile health conditions. Marjorie was getting ready to visit a very ill friend in Rockville.
“We are getting older,” she said to me. “Every moment counts. We can’t take each other for granted.” We both thought of how we have to be grateful, patient, loving, understanding, forgiving, and all of those traits of a good person.
More information on the Bonham London to Brighton Veteran Car Run: https://www.veterancarrun.com/welcome