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.
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: we 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 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.)
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 goes 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.
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, 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.