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Not Dead Yet

David Gartland

FOR MY BIRTHDAY this year, my wife gave me a card that declares, “Not Dead Yet.” That might sound morbid, but I laughed. The reason: My wife had misinterpreted something I used to say to colleagues at my final job.

When they saw me at the coffee machine, they’d often ask, “How are you doing, Dave?”

Instead of saying “fine,” I used to say, “I’m still breathing. Count your blessings. Blessing No. 1: I’m still breathing.”

In many cases, I’d get an amen, or colleagues would chuckle, or they’d say something positive. My wife saw it differently.

She always thought it meant I was done with living and getting ready to die, which is the furthest thing from the truth. In fact, I was—and still am—celebrating the here and now, expressing gratitude for still being alive.

My latest birthday is one of my most significant. It’s my required minimum distribution (RMD) birthday, meaning I just turned 73. With this birthday, I’ve achieved the final financial goal I set for myself. I wanted to hold off all withdrawals from my IRA—which I first opened when I was age 27—until I was forced to by the tax rules. To celebrate this milestone, I’ll be giving away my entire RMD as qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) to the charities I’ve selected. To help both me and one of the charities, a portion of my QCD will purchase a charitable gift annuity.

While I consider 73 to be a special birthday, I didn’t want any presents. It isn’t that I don’t like gifts. Rather, I don’t like what my wife buys me—because they’re usually things she thinks I need, not things I want. Often, it’s clothes that my wife would like to see me wear.

But this year was different. I received a ream of printer paper, a T-shirt that says “real cars don’t shift themselves,” a bag of Hershey’s dark chocolate kisses, a grabber because my son wants me to help him collect roadside trash, three lottery scratch-off tickets that yielded winnings of $6, and lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant. In other words, my wife gave me things I needed and liked, and there wasn’t anything I had to return.

Now that I’ve notched my final financial milestone birthday, I’ll be measuring the passage of time in days, not years. Every day I’m alive is a reason to celebrate.

I have heard of people who have weekend-long, or week-long or month-long birthday celebrations. But mine will be a celebration every day for the rest of my life. I’m still breathing. What could be a better reason to celebrate?

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