You’re going to die anyway.

You’re going to die anyway.

“You know you’re going to die anyway, right?”

It was 1999 and I had just temporarily moved into my Uncle John’s studio apartment in New York City. He very generously let me stay with him while I found an apartment for my family. After several years of trying to break into the animation industry, I had just accepted my dream job at Nickelodeon. Jenni and our two babies were packing up our home in Phoenix and I had to find a place for us, fast.

My uncle and I were getting reacquainted after many years. He had just learned that I was a vegetarian, and was grilling me on the why’s and wherefore’s of abstaining from a carnivorous diet. In contrast, John was a lifelong chain smoker and loved rich meat dishes. We both hailed from Omaha, Nebraska, that gloriously flat land teaming with beef, corn and ham. I was the odd one in my family (in many ways, but we’ll stick to diet for now). It seemed that everyone on my father’s side started smoking young and couldn’t resist a juicy steak or burger. For John to learn that I no longer ate meat of any kind, it was hard to comprehend. In true pragmatic, midwestern fashion he assumed that I might be trying to achieve some sort of immortality.

To put this in better perspective, my grandfather died of a massive coronary in his early 40s. My own father has suffered several heart attacks, multiple bypasses, stents and, like many people over 40, takes blood thinners to keep the arteries from blocking. My Uncle John himself developed advanced heart disease, eventually required a heart transplant and sadly passed away a few years ago in his 60s.

With both sides of my family steeped in heart disease lore, my genetics say that if I follow the same path as my ancestors, I will suffer the same result. It’s guaranteed. So I work hard to go in the opposite direction. I haven’t eaten meat since 1993 and I haven’t touched dairy since 2001. I don’t smoke, either, but I do drive too fast and I love my bourbon (not at the same time, of course). I’ve been known to consume large quantities of French fries and chocolate. I’m not infallible to the lure of gastronomic decadence.

I am far from immortal and I have no desire to live in this form forever – especially sans chocolate. While I eat pretty well and get regular exercise, I have no illusions that I am making Death twiddle its thumbs waiting for me to kick.

Living to infinity is not the point.

See, I didn’t expect to feel this good in my 50s. My observations of older family members growing up is that “Getting old is hell!” – a direct quote from my grandmother in her 80s. I had always assumed that what happens to you after 30 is that you start sliding down a steep slope into decay. At some point I made a conscious decision that shuffling around the mall in support hose would not be my fate.

I know I’m going to die. I’m not afraid of dying. What strikes ugly fear into my hammering vegan heart is the prospect of suffering through preventable disease. I don’t want my kids (or my wife) to worry about how long I’ll be with them, or put aside their lives so they can care for me in my old age. Or my middle age, for that matter.

I’m going to do everything I can to avoid spending my later years farting in an overstuffed chair watching reruns of Friends. I want to do things, not watching them being done.

Yes, I’m going to die anyway. But I’m not going without a fight.

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