Years ago when I was teaching drama at a Junior High in Florida, I gave the class an assignment to observe an old person and then do a pantomime of what that looked like. One boy got up and did the classic hunched over, shaking, limping example that he had seen. The character he portrayed was sad, lonely, and clearly disabled. After he was finished I asked him who he had observed and he evasively said, “Just someone.” The boy said he was trying to show the sadness of being old. I then asked him how old the person was that he observed and he said, “40.” Perhaps at 13, 40 looks that old. But I think the kid didn’t do his homework.
What is “old” anyway? We all have preconceived notions of what that looks and feels like.
When I was 42, my husband would joke with me about being 47 as if somehow that was an impossibly old age. I remember being excited about being 30 because I would finally be an adult (even though I had been married and had two children in my 20’s). But somehow 30 meant you were no longer just kidding around. You were expected to make something of yourself by the time you were 30. When I turned 40 I made a huge change in my life and literally moved across the country and started a new career in Hollywood. Someone told me that 40 was a good age for women because once they were past their childbearing years, they now could pursue their dream careers. That sounded good and that’s what I did for the next 28 years.
Then suddenly, a back injury and the ensuing chronic pain edged me out of the fast lane onto a winding country deer trail. Everything shifted from moving at the speed of light as a superwoman to being a very mortal, aging person. Not as fun as I would have liked, and sooner than my perpetually 30 something mental image of myself expected. But deer trails are interesting. So I have made the best of it.
70 is considered “young old”
And then a couple of days ago 70 arrived. I am happy to say that although I do use a cane, I am not the sad, frail, hunched over person my Junior High student imagined (that kid now is probably in his 50s). But there is something very sobering about turning 70. It’s an age that says you definitely are not young anymore. Not that 50 or 60 is young, but somehow, those numbers don’t sound as bad as 70. I read somewhere that under the new way of looking at aging, 50 and 60 are considered middle-aged and older middle-aged, and now 70 is considered “young old”. 80 is simply old, and 90 is really old. Still, by these calculations, I have crossed the line into “old.”
And there are a lot of us “Ok, Boomers” around. Usually, when I tell someone my age they exclaim with shock that I couldn’t possibly be “that old!” I remember saying the same thing to my friends who preceded me into this august season. I now realize it might not have been the best reaction. Because no matter how youthful one can try to appear, the truth is the truth. My body knows how old I am and eventually, aging happens. To all of us that make it this far.
Isn’t it sad that we revere age in trees and turtles and architecture but not in our fellow humans? At least in this country. In our world life is about being young, beautiful, sexy, successful. Smooth skin and six-pack abs. Luscious lips and luxurious hair. We are encouraged (maybe even shamed) into dieting, exercising and botoxing our way back to our 20s or 30s. The tabloids are full of chatty articles about some star’s “sad last days” or grainy photos of the latest failed plastic surgeries. I never wanted to go that route. Not that it would be nice to still have my 20 something looks, but this is who I am and what I look like now. It just seems the best thing to do is embrace it. So here I am embracing it.
Here is a list of things I am thankful for at this new season of my life:
I have a great family that I love and they love me. We don’t always get along. We can disagree on everything from politics to fashion, but we work through it and we are there for each other.
I have a wonderful grandchild. Being a grandmother might be my favorite part of getting older. I have so enjoyed getting to watch my granddaughter grow up.
I am thankful for my friends. All of them. Former students, classmates, teachers, clients. My swimming pals. My friends on Facebook. Friends from church. Coworkers and colleagues. Everyone I have ever met has in some way helped to shape who I am today.
I am enjoying my “retirement”. Mostly. While I am not showing up for a 9-5 job, I am still trying to do things that are meaningful and helpful such as writing, blogging, and consulting on various film projects.
I am thankful for God! This really should be at the top. My faith and prayer life has grown exponentially. I spend a lot of time in prayer for my family, friends and the world. Prayer is my favorite thing to do every day.
Every day I am thankful for things I can do. Things many take for granted. Driving, shopping, seeing friends, writing, thinking.
And I am thankful for all the things I have – a lovely house, treasured antiques, a car, food on the table, technology, cats and dogs, hummingbirds and mourning doves. Butterflies and Canadian geese. Living near the ocean. Swimming at the YMCA. Coffee. Chocolate. Books. The list could go on and on.
Finally, I am thankful for the wisdom of years. After being around as long as I have been, I know that nothing lasts forever. I have lived through wars and political craziness. I have seen stock markets rise and fall and rise again. I have been rich and I have been poor. I’ve lived in big cities and small towns. I’ve had great jobs and terrible jobs. I’ve won and lost awards, and I’ve been helped by strangers and betrayed by friends. I’ve been married and divorced and married again. I’ve given birth and I’ve lost loved ones.
It’s been an adventure. Fun, boring, exciting, dangerous, disastrous, silly and miraculous. Every day really is a new beginning. Everything, no matter how annoying, terrible, sad or even wonderful changes. Nothing stays the same. So no matter what your age, just keep breathing. It will all be different tomorrow. Or as Dory in Finding Nemo says, ”Just keep swimming.”
I am grateful for each of my 70 years. All 3,681,644 minutes. And I pray I get as many more as God chooses to give me. I plan to just keep swimming for as long as possible and to cling to the fact that I am but a youngster at being old.
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