When I was a child, my family had a framed print with an old man and a motto underneath that said, "Never regret growing older; it's a privilege denied to many." I can still see it in my mind's eye - the old man's weather-beaten hat, the driftwood frame, hung on our old wood paneling.
It's a very Irish Catholic, gloomy, guilt-inducing thing to say, like when my Great-Grandfather Hughes used to tell us that if we saw a penny on the street and didn't pick it up, "you'll see the day you'll be needing it." As a child it struck me as a kind of clever, smart-aleck retort that you could use on grownups whenever they talked about getting over-the-hill.
It wasn't until I lost a schoolmate to leukemia when I was 15 that the deeper meaning started to set in. I began to feel the full weight of that second part: Life is a privilege denied to many. Every day, that privilege is taken from thousands of people who won't get to see their next birthday, the next anniversary, wedding or baptism.
I am very, very privileged to be here. And I try to never let myself regret growing older.