We have parked at the edge of the paved lot, front door of the restaurant within sight, as to not draw attention to our family on a Saturday morning. We have followed all of the clandestine instructions, regarding our 11:40am arrival time, and my wife carries the nondescript birthday card in her hand—each member of our family has signed a heartfelt birthday wish for our friend. Beeline made through the front of the restaurant to the rear of the building; no one has seen us, check.

Dedicated readers of my self-indulgent narratives may remember Friendships Are the Measure of a Man’s Worth. The recipient of that summer surprise birthday party, my quirky friend Scott, is plotting total revenge this afternoon, in the form of a surprise 50th birthday party for his wife, Angie.

I would classify both of them as dear friends, and our family is honored to celebrate this momentous occasion with their extended family and friends, as we are all huddled in the darkened backroom banquet hall of the restaurant. Finally, Scott and Angie arrive, light switches are dramatically flicked on, declarations of surprise are shouted, and a hardy round of cheers and handclaps commence. Chicken cutlets, meatballs smothered in marinara sauce, out-of-this-world tossed salad, fresh baked rolls, and oven-roasted potatoes are served to all. Decadent, moist slices of cake follow afterwards.

Angie appeared to be surprised, although she is quite an intelligent woman, and I know that she had to have filled her own basket of suspicions, collecting her husband’s out-of-the-ordinary conversations and mannerisms, over the last week or two. Scott seems to be the type of man that struggles with keeping secrets from his friends and family—a rare characteristic that is, quite frankly, admirable. I have to commend him on the amount of effort put forth, in an actual public declaration of love for his wife, to define and develop this birthday party for her. I believe there is a lesson in here that I, myself, can learn from my peers.

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well ~ Voltaire

Those first four paragraphs are not the point of today’s narrative, but rather the inspiration. Fifty—the Big Five O—seems so far away, yet so close that it is a bit unnerving, simultaneously frightening. Should I live to be one hundred years old (which there is no way on God’s green earth that I will), age fifty is located at the apex of living or dying like a teetering seesaw, balanced in the center of it all.

Upon reflection, I am presented with the following realization: life is short, usually shorter than expected, and you must make the most of your time.

Wait, doesn’t that sound much like my A (Sort of) Bucket List and Memento Mori diatribes and philosophies of Live Now, in the Moment, that I’ve been proclaiming all year long? Indeed, but I believe there is one more angle that I haven’t explored yet.

In the course of 2017, I have attempted to make and meet certain goals—albeit, one at a time—in order to chip away from the massive mountain of things that I want to accomplish this year, with this year being the focus of my point. But, God willing, my life will continue beyond this year, and the next, and the next. With my seesaw analogy, I have been pondering upon the years that lie beyond.

Yes, in addition to my 2017 Bucket List, I have a Lifetime Bucket List (as you all should, in my humble opinion). While it is easy to simply pen a list of things that you want to do before you die, most people omit the planning part of the equation. For instance, if I dream of fifty must-do-before-I-die (or even before reaching my 50th birthday) items, wishing for said experiences in life is just not enough, you must plan. How about tackling ten of those goals each year, for five decades? Right now you may be imagining yourself as an eighty-year-old skydiving from an airplane. Pause right there for a moment.

What about defining age-appropriate goals for yourself? How about selecting a handful of experiences for yourself before you reach your 50th, 55th, 60th, 65th birthday, etc? If you are much younger, well, time is on your side. Or is it? We can never be certain of the day and time of our natural death, so perhaps you shouldn’t wait to plan for an important adventure in life, whatever that may be. Fetch your road atlas and begin circling dream destinations in red Sharpie marker, go ahead, I’ll wait.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition ~ Steve Jobs

I check my reflection in the mirror, and it’s confirmed that I am not getting any younger. As I conclude this yearly project of mine—in a mere sixty-one days—I will need to give some serious thought to what I want to accomplish in the following year, 2018, as well as in the next decade.

What goals can I set for myself, and accomplish in a reasonable amount of time, before I am no longer able to complete such goals? What do I want to accomplish before my fiftieth birthday, and what steps do I need to start working on now to meet those goals, six years into the future?

That’s my homework for today, for the remainder of the year.