At Seventy: Seven Thoughts

I turned 70 this past weekend.

Not everyone gets to do that.

I take no special pride in achieving the status of septuagenarian. Really, I didn’t DO anything special. My health is due more to my genes than the grains I’ve been consuming forever, organic or not. I exercise sporadically; I have never dieted, seriously; and I take my sleep for granted. I’m one of the lucky ones.

Do you remember all your birthdays? Probably not.Those that end in 0 hold a special place, once we’re past 21.

I recall all my 0-ending birthdays, except for 20.

10: My grandmother gave me the coins she’d been collecting with the 1948 date on them.
I felt quite rich.

30: country club dinner; opal earrings from my mom that were stolen the next summer

40: surprise party! Great barbecue in the backyard. Lots of “over the hill” gifts.

50: Woody and I rented a lake house in Sweden and got caught in a huge downpour
as we biked into town for groceries.  No gifts; a lake house in Sweden is enough!

60: a gathering here in Vermont with four generations of family, a few new friends,
two former Kazakh students, and a Kazakh colleague. We had perfect weather and
former students Nurken and Raikhan decorated the house.  Such fun.

This year? Woody and I will be at SummerSong, a weekend of music, song, and community. We’ll sleep in a barn. I’m excited. (yes; I’m writing this ahead of time).

(Here we are enjoying a bit of downtime one early morning while there.)

Photo credit: Heather Alger

Anticipating this post, I’ve been jotting down thoughts about aging and the changes that come along, specifically mine.

Here are seven that stood out for me (One for each decade?).

1. The older I get, the smaller my earrings become.

I reposted this to  Facebook  a few weeks ago. It turns out many understand this phenomenon. Am I getting more conservative?

2. My mind and my body have taken separate paths.

That ancient mind-body duality seems to have revived itself here in my corner of the universe. Inside my head, I don’t sound any different than I think I’ve ever sounded. If I had to guess my age, I’d choose 42, but only if pressed.

My body, however, has taken a different tack. Gardening gives the best example.

I was in my fifties before I learned to enjoy gardening. It was the year before we left for the Peace Corps and we were living on Chincoteague Island. I loved the smell of the salt air and the way the weeds just slipped out from the sandy soil.

Here in Vermont, I continue to love gardening. But here, it’s the ruthlessness of gardening that I’ve come to enjoy: pulling out the invaders and pruning back the overachievers.

One day I might tackle the weeds in the blueberry patch or the grass that’s sprung among the strawberries in the raised bed; another day it’ll be digging out the buckthorn or other invasives along the edge of the woods.

“Take that!” I’ll yell internally. Those are fun hours, times of reckless abandon.  I feel powerful.

And then my body reminds me it was not consulted and it complains loudly. If the mind and the body are so integrally connected, why didn’t it talk to me BEFORE I spent the morning on my hands and knees?

How can my mind feel so young, so rambunctious, so eager for new adventures while my body races to the recliner? This makes no sense to me.

3. Time does go faster the older I get,
just as my grandmother said.

Or am I just going slower?

Used to be I had all the time in the world. Tasks took a certain amount of time and I was pretty good at estimating that time. I know better now. I set out to accomplish three things in a day and I’m good if I get two of them done.

Used to be I did what was important in that moment. Regret what I haven’t done, not what I did: that was my motto. Was I really impulsive? Whatever it was called, I’m more conscious of what I choose to involve myself in. And part of that choosing is balancing my alone time and my social time, my solitude and my activity.

As a result, I’m less reactive, less prone to bounce off into doing something I’ll regret, and more aware of how that bouncing off will impact the rest of my day. In short, I’m fussier, more discriminating in how I spend my time.

I’ve accept that HOW I spend my time is my choice. So, while I’m still task oriented most of the time (after all, there’s much to be done on a 30 acre timber and chicken farm, with a budding new career move, five grandchildren, a book I want to finish, and this blog I so enjoy), I’m certain to find some time to sit still and enjoy the moment. They are fleeting moments, so I make certain I enjoy them.

4. I don’t seek permission anymore.

From anyone. I don’t need agreement, either.

Agreement, I realize as I type this, can be rather boring. Nice, of course, comfortable, but Ho Hum. Disagreement is where the spice is, the energy, the challenge.  And this has only gotten stronger with age. I don’t want to argue; I’m really not into convincing anyone of anything; I’m just curious what you believe and, more importantly, why.

I know how to listen to my body (Just because it doesn’t speak up when I decide to pull weeds, doesn’t mean I don’t listen when it does speak.) and I give it what it needs. And, one of the more tangible benefits of having been around awhile, I now know HOW to get it. So, pardon me while I step out of line to fetch that.

Thanks to WeHeart.com for the clever meme.

5. My absolutes are fewer.

That old adage, “my way or the highway,” was once written for me. My black and white thinking has been replaced with a new appreciation for that mushy, muddy (and sometimes miserable) middle.

Along with this, my notion of what is (and should be) fixable has changed. “Mind your own business” is now a meaningful phrase, not an insult. And finding out just what is my business is a worthwhile goal.

6. I no longer take my future for granted.

I am conscious of my own mortality; but that’s not new. I remember discovering that particular consciousness as I prepared for my English Literature class while in the Peace Corps. I was 57.  All these famous writers were long dead.  I knew then, certain to my core, that I would some day be among them (the dead part for sure, probably not the famous part).

I’m in that generation where the deaths of former classmates, friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors no longer come as a surprise. Sad, yes; but their deaths are creating my new normal.

Still, I enjoy an eager anticipation as I look to the future. After all, this week it’s been 50 years since Soviet tanks rolled into Prague, ending their short-lived liberal experiment in “communism with a human face,” and here at home, Chicago erupted in rioting outside the Democratic National Convention, with clashes between local police and students, sending over 100 to emergency rooms and 175 to jail.  Prague is now one of the foremost tourist destinations going, if you like history and stunningly beautiful architecture. And though Chicago continues to struggle, my country has had some good years since. And we will again. I have hope. I have to.

7. In this autumn of my life, I’m planting bulbs.

There’s still so much to see and do. Each bulb has its own story. You know I’ve decided to go back to work in September. This decision, stewing for the past year and made for certain only a few months ago, has given me both a psychological lift and a financial boost. How this particular bulb will bloom remains to be seen.

See you again at 80.  In the meantime, here’s a reverent nod to a favorite nonagenarian, Betty White.

How about you? What’s your take on age? What are you noticing? 

That ends our August series. With the exception of the one on Mariah, these  were posts I was able to put together earlier in the summer, giving me an opportunity to absorb more of summer’s sensuous sunshine.

What will September bring? Time will tell.

31 Responses

  1. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    Good morning, Janet. Happy Birthday! I hope you and Woody enjoyed your weekend of music.

  2. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — happy, Happy, HAPPY birthday to YOU! I enjoyed reading your insights, and I know that you’re having a blast at SummerSong!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you, thank you, thank you, Laurie. SummerSong was a lovely, quiet respite from our usual frenetic pace. And we were introduced to a few lovely new rituals — singing down the sun, among my favorites.
      Janet Givens recently posted…At Seventy: Seven ThoughtsMy Profile

  3. watchingthedaisies
    | Reply

    A belated happy birthday. At 63, I am settling into the best years of my life… 🌼🌼🌼

  4. timfearnside
    | Reply

    Nice thoughts, Janet :). I can already relate to a few of them — particularly, the ever-increasing velocity of time, and, regrettably, the seeming lack of agreement between my mind and my body as to precisely how old I am or should be. Happy belated birthday — I hope it was great! – T

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      It was just what I’d hoped for, Tim: not a lot of hoopla. Friday night they had an unexpected gigantic rhubarb pie with two candles in it. Turns out a young man, Sam, turned 24 on Friday. So, after a few choruses of Happy Birthday Sam and Janet, someone broke into a rousing rendition of “Sam and Janet Evening, you may see a stranger …”. And off we all went. It was fun.

      Here’s to uniting that mind/body thing once again.
      Janet Givens recently posted…At Seventy: Seven ThoughtsMy Profile

  5. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    A delight from beginning to end with so much I can relate to!

    Some random comments:
    About the earrings, I think we don’t chose smaller ones; our earnings just look smaller because our faces widen as we age.

    Yes, time appears to go faster because more years lie behind us than before us.

    “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be!” my mantra from Browning’s Rabbi Ben Ezra. I’m farther up the 70s ladder than you are. Let’s think of ourselves as ageless. I love Betty White’s wit and the photo of you and Woody, sweet!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Real Men Wear Aprons and Make FlanMy Profile

  6. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    A great post. Happy Birthday and many more. I agree, growing older is a privilege not all can enjoy. I think every decade has its highlights. Learning as we go is the best reward. xo

  7. Frank V. Moore
    | Reply

    Happy Birthday, Janet! Luv this!!

  8. Bette Stevens
    | Reply

    Happy 70th, Janet! May your new decade be overflowing with blessings… 🙂 xo
    Bette Stevens recently posted…Monarch Butterfly Haiku by Bette A. Stevens (+FREE “Help Protect Monarch Butterflies” Poster)My Profile

  9. Joan Rough
    | Reply

    Great post, Janet. I’ve been pondering and doing a lot of writing about my own aging. In many ways it’s a complicated time, but also so very freeing. Having this time is a privilege and I continue to sort myself out as well as get a handle on this crazy world.

    I didn’t know that you have another book underway. Would love to hear about it.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      It’s quite “IN” I’ve found to assess yourself “At Seventy.” You are right in style. I wonder if we naturally grow more introspective as we age or if it’s an individual thing. The book seems to becoming something of a prequel to the Peace Corps book. The story I want (need?) to tell is still emerging. One thing for sure: this time I’m going with She Writes. No more going it alone for me.
      Janet Givens recently posted…At Seventy: Seven ThoughtsMy Profile

  10. susan scott
    | Reply

    Loved your thoughts about turning 70 Janet! Time does flow faster. My thoughts about turning 70? I guess I’m more aware that I have fewer years left than already lived and to make them meaningful and lived well as much as possible. It’s an introspective time for sure!

  11. Gloria
    | Reply

    Hello Janet! Well, aren’t you an inspiration. I love your attitude. This post reminds me of one that’s sitting in my drafts – I really must finish it and post it. I wrote it last December when I turned 50 and it’s about how I feel towards myself, people & life in general. I will finish it before my 51st birthday!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I can see it now, “At Fifty-One.” A retrospective or a look ahead? I can’t wait. Thanks for popping in, Gloria. And welcome.
      Janet Givens recently posted…At Seventy: Seven ThoughtsMy Profile

  12. Pamela
    | Reply

    Happy Birthday, Janet. Your seven thoughts of seventy are wise, fun, and enlightening. I agree with most of them, but perhaps out of defiance, my earrings are not getting smaller. That’s one part of my fashion appearance that I don’t have to cede to being older. I watched a show the other day in which an “older” lady (my gad, she was probably only 60, but decades older than the rest of the performers) wore long shiny beautiful earrings, and I thought, “Good for her!” 🙂 Here’s to good health and learning to enjoy life on the fast lane, because yes, life is moving MUCH more swiftly now.
    Pamela recently posted…Balancing ActMy Profile

  13. Pamela
    | Reply

    P.S. What’s your new job? Can’t wait to hear about it.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You are my new fashionista, Pam. So I’ll give the dangles a go, one more time. The idea, though, has me a tad anxious. How curious!
      Janet Givens recently posted…At Seventy: Seven ThoughtsMy Profile

  14. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    Happy 70th, Janet! I like your seven thoughts. As for #1, I guess I’ve always been a conservative dresser because I’ve always worn small earrings. Come to think of it, some of mine are probably 35 years old. Lol! I’m 65 and, yes, time is passing faster and faster. I didn’t understand that when my parents used to say it. Enjoy your time off!

  15. Claire Saul
    | Reply

    I love this post Janet! It is funny but I really feel that I know you through your book – and even more so by listening to it! Hope you had a wonderful birthday – I had to share this on my regular feature on PainPalsBlog – Monday Magic Inspiring Blogs for You! Claire x

  16. Lorna
    | Reply

    Happy 70th, dear Janet. Don’t ever lose your spark.

    And I don’t have pierced ears anymore, but I’m another one for team dangly ear-rings.
    Lorna recently posted…If We Were Having Coffee & WritingMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      How ever do you get rid of the holes? I rarely wear earrings anymore — only when I’m going “out” and must be “dressed” (what is it about earrings that one doesn’t feel fully dressed until they are in?) — but I doubt the holes will ever close up. I realize I’ve long admired women who wear dangly earrings, the bigger, the better. And moo moos. Women who can wear and carry off a moo moo deserve my admiration. And those who put them together get adored. Thanks for weighing in here today, Lorna. I hope you come back.
      Janet Givens recently posted…At Seventy: Seven ThoughtsMy Profile

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