Some people say I work too hard. But whenever I look at the above family photo, I think: I’m not working hard enough.
The photo is one of my favorites, and I first saw it as a young child. It shows my grandfather, Joseph T. West, at left. At right is my great uncle, John W. West. And in the center is my great grandfather. They’re about to begin a hike at Vermont’s Lincoln Gap on the Long Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in the United States.
The photo was taken at 2 p.m. on Aug. 29, 1932.
That day, my great grandfather died on the hike from a heart attack. My grandfather instructed his brother John to stay with body while he climbed back down the trail to get help.
My great grandfather was 45 on the day he died.
My family has a history of heart problems. My grandfather endured bypass surgery and then collapsed from a stroke while on a walk to the local market in the 1980s. My uncle, Tom West, died of a heart attack – way too young – in 2011. And that’s for starters.
So every time I encounter this photo I am reminded of two things.
- Watch my numbers. I’ve closely monitored my cholesterol and blood pressure since I was in my 20s. Exercise, diet and pills keep my numbers in check. This might not be enough (ask my cardiologist about my gene pairs) but it’s better than fatalism.
- Do not delay. I kind of assumed I’d leave this world at age 45. Not for any good reason – brains are funny and stupid – but merely because of the photo and the family story behind it. So I worked like hell to get “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” out before my 45th birthday. Every other book I written since has been a gift.
None of us know when we’re leaving this earth. But this photo always reminds me that my days are numbered. So I don’t sit around. I tell myself: build something. Write something. Get the next book published. Get everything out of your head and onto paper before your head is a cinder in a cremation furnace.
Is this morbid? I don’t really care. I do know that this photo has kept me going since age 11 or so, and so I am weirdly thankful for it.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. In regards to the title of this blog post, my mother’s copy of this photo has a handwritten note on the back from Uncle Johnny. “The day dad died. Aug. 29, 1932. 2:00 p.m. Lincoln Warren Gap. I was there!”