Changing Decades

On February 27, I went to bed in my sixties and on February 28, I woke up “old.”  I was on a Mexican vacation, where I have had the privilege to be for birthdays in the past few years, and I assumed this one would be the same.  All sunshine and balloons and happiness. But this birthday was different. I turned 70.  It is a sobering number.  But rather than dwell on the sober part of this transition, I drank tequila whenever it was offered, sat in the winter-break sun and wrinkled my skin and pretended I was still just 69.

It wasn’t until I returned home that the number really hit me.  When I mentioned to someone that I went away for a big birthday, the ever too often question was, “How old are you?” I innocently replied with the truth. And the response was “Wow, you don’t look that old.”  Now where I come from, that is a backhanded compliment. I was both flattered and nagged by the “that old” part.

Turning 70 does give one pause. It is more time lived than time left.  No matter how you swing it, unless you live to be 140, you have passed the halfway mark.

I remember a time in North Carolina at a family beach vacation when all of us were married and alive. Mom, dad, my sister and brother and I had traveled to the ocean with our families.  The first evening, I sat watching my mother feeding my six week old (yes we flew without all vaccines in the unenlightened times way back then), children running everywhere, my eldest nephew throwing cheddar cheese spit balls at everyone and everything until one glued itself to the vaulted ceiling. Adults were scattered on the deck, by the beer cooler, in the porch rockers. The moon was rising over the ocean, its reflection sparkling on the black night ocean and in a moment of clarity, I realized this was fleeting. I said,” This is as good as it gets, isn’t it mama?  And she answered, “Yes, it is darlin’. Savor it. Enjoy every minute.” And so I did. I have. Most of the time.

But, suddenly being “old” is a startling reminder of the truth of my mama’s words. Now that life has slowly chipped away at my sense of invincibility, I understand her insight better, and the evidence is everywhere. Actors I admired and idolized as a younger me are dying and I am shocked. I hear Raquel Welch is dead and my first thought is, “Oh my, was she hit by a car?” Instead, the news reports she died peacefully in her sleep after a short illness surrounded by family. What?! The iconic sex symbol of my formative years died of the obit euphemism for “old age”?  Burt Bacharach and Chuck Jackson, who sang many of Bacharach’s songs, died also, their ages startling me as much as the fact that they were gone.

Mulling over this new found reality that I, like many of my peers and idols, are sliding toward the downward slope, I have diverted my thoughts to the positive aspects of being “old.” One advantage is I don’t take bullshit answers for much of anything anymore. I am making a conscious effort to spend time with people who replenish me. Value my input. Make me laugh. Share my tears.

I watched an interview with one of my favorite, quirky, beautiful girl-next- door actresses, Andie McDowell, who was asked why she was letting her signature dark curls go grey.  Her reply at 65 was simple.  “I want to be old.  I am tired of trying to be young. I don’t even want to be young. I have been young.” Easy to say when her perfectly salt and pepper hair tumbles around her still model-worthy face, but I loved her honesty. Her acceptance.

I was recently watching a great new show my daughter introduced me to called Shrinking.  I was so proud. As an “elderly’ person, I signed up for Apple TV+ all by myself, copied the QR Code on the TV screen, matched it on the computer and then triumphantly I got to the show but it had subtitles which I couldn’t figure out how to switch off. Just too much technology for me to tackle in one sitting.

So I watched it anyway. And at first, I found it distracting and then two episodes in, I realized it was like reading before bed with visuals.  I didn’t have to turn up my volume so loud that the neighbors could hear it and I didn’t have to rewind to hear “what did she say?”  It was perfect. I am not hard of hearing, of course, except in crowded restaurants where people across the table always whisper or straining to understand my grandchildren’s soft voices or my adult children when I don’t want to hear what they are saying.  But this subtitles discovery is perfect and not to mention, magic.

I have always had a nagging yearning to do one memorable thing before I die.  As I get older, I realize raising three kids into adulthood, and seeing them as compassionate, responsible adults, makes a beautiful mark on this world. That is quite something to have accomplished. And I actully like them all.  Alot.

They have six and soon to be seven children between them. I always say grandchildren are our chance to love a child unconditionally without the angst of making them perfect. My youngest, due later this month, is having her first in her mid-thirties.  Her pregnancy is called a geriatric pregnancy. Don’t even get me started on what that makes me as the grandmother. I feel certain the word would be right up there with senile purpura, the medical term for those ugly purple ink blots that appear on my forearm if I look at it wrong or sneeze too hard.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backward but must be lived forwards.” When I was younger, I mused about its irony but recently I better understand its grave validity. I constantly remind myself to stay in the “now” and live life as it is happening. And I attempt to temper my experiences with some comprehension in the present.

One thing I know for sure, we only get one chance at this life. And I plan to live the hell out of it, no matter my age or society’s notions about that number.

For now, I am going with 70 is the new 50.  And if I am still standing at 80 or 90, I will  just up it a decade and keep it on repeat.