LOOKING AHEAD AT 74
Yesterday I celebrated my 74th birthday and woke up this morning wondering if I would feel any different than I did the day before. No change. I try not to dwell on age, but knowing that the end is closer in sight brings new thoughts into my head: When do I look in the mirror and see a different face, or when do I accept that I can no longer ride my bicycle. I hope to say never.
More than one hundred friends wished me happy birthday via social media, and I don’t care if Facebook reminded them. It doesn’t matter. It means that when they saw it was my birthday, they stopped what they were doing and took a minute to write. I loved all the notes, even the typical ones. It’s just a number. You look years younger. One comment — I hope to be like you when I’m your age — reminded me of the time when I said the same thing to 75 and 80 year olds, just after we finished a hard early morning workout, swimming a mile in the pool. I was probably 35. It was a ridiculous comment, but a close male friend went overboard and said I still looked hot. I reminded him that he hasn’t seen me in years. What gives me a boost is when people appear surprised to see a woman my age climb a steep hill on my bike. My computer reads four miles an hour!
I’m not fishing for compliments because age hasn’t bothered me much until now, but only because I’m more aware that the remaining years are shrinking and going fast. And yet, I feel there is still more to experience, and much to accomplish, the latter being a concept relatively new to me. In my thirties, my accomplishments were like a “to do” list I created weekly, a list where drawing a line through a task, write a thank you to Donna, meant it was done. But now that I’m older, accomplishments take on a different meaning, like buying a new house and selling an old one, moving to a new city, learning to become a gardener and prune trees. New Year’s resolutions are more self-focused and easier to let lapse: Hug often, be kinder, more patient, a better listener, less sensitive, lose weight, etc. For me, accomplishments, unlike New Year’s resolutions, are greater in scope, more challenging and harder to achieve. They take many forms and come in different sizes. One year an accomplishment was getting in touch with people from my past and reconnecting. What amazed me is that people I had lost contact with just popped up out of nowhere. At Peets Coffee a woman I knew from a yoga class tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a big hug. We hadn’t seen each other in years, but now we see each other all the time. Out of the blue a woman I used to run with called to say she found an old address book that had my number and decided to dial it. Maybe these are just coincidences, but I believe things happen for a reason.
I have often wondered how I have come through life, at least so far, relatively unscathed emotionally and in fairly decent health when others have not faired so well. My friend’s husband didn’t deserve Parkinson’s disease, and one of my closest friends lost several years of independence and her ability to play golf when an autoimmune disease hit her like a freight train, but, for reasons medical science can’t explain, she got her happy life back when that awful train ran out of steam. These are questions I some times ask myself. Do I have good genes? Is it years of consistent exercise? Was it months of therapy? Was it because I thrived professionally when some jerks I worked for got fired. Is it because of the support I receive from Bruce and my girlfriends of many years who laugh with me and at me?
I think that with age, confidence comes without our realizing it. Maybe it’s because at some point in our lives we know we don’t have much to lose. I think we become less concerned about making a good impression. We learn to trust our instincts and be ourselves. At the same time, I wonder if I will ever shed my sensitivity to the things I take too personally. I’ve heard these comments all my life. Don’t take things so personally, Pam. My husbands (plural) have said it and my close friends too. I watch how others let comments I might take personally roll off their backs, and I wish I could do that. We are not all built the same. Our brains work in different ways.
When my mother was 74, she lost her partner of 50 years. After her grief subsided, I told her not to hibernate because she had things in life to look forward to. I didn’t use the word achieve or accomplish, but I wish I had. Maybe my comments would have jolted her a little and set her off on a course different from watching TV and refusing to pick up the phone and call her friends because she thought they should call her first. I swear never to do that. By contrast, I take inspiration from my 91 year-old aunt, the last of my mother’s generation. Although her legs don’t work very well, her relatively strong mind is applied positively. She’s sharp enough to end our phone conversations with the words “Give my love to Bruce,” when she could easily slip and accidentally mention a former husband. She treasures my trip stories and reads my blog posts. She asks probing questions about my travel experiences, when others usually just ask if I had a good time. My aunt isn’t interested in knowing whether I had a good time. Instead she wants details. Why did I choose this destination? Did I meet any ancestors of the Vikings in Norway? How did I communicate with the tribal people in Ethiopia? What did I learn? How did I feel about traveling to such a remote place? Probing for answers to in-depth questions can only come from someone with an innate level of curiosity, someone who absorbs the answers and continues a lively conversation. At 91 my Aunt Catherine speaks three or four languages fluently, whereas my mother — when her brain went fuzzy — reverted to speaking only the Vlach dialect she learned as a child.
It’s not easy to define and articulate what I want to experience, achieve and accomplish in the next umpty-ump years of my life, but I know I don’t want life to pass me by like it did my mother in her later years. I want to be like my brother, who at age 84 is flying to Aspen next week to tackle the ski slopes with gusto. I want to keep riding my bicycle, experience new things, learn more about the history of the world and its many cultures, continue to stay connected with my family, and build relationships with positive, forward-thinking people. I want to write more, continue taking pictures, have a solo gallery show, and create a book with the photographs I have taken of people and places around the world. I also hope to have the courage to submit some of my writing for publication, knowing I may never hear back, or when I do, it could be a one-liner with the words, Sorry, but……. After he retired, my brother wrote a couple of terrific novels, and even though he had professional connections with publishing houses, his manuscripts were never accepted for publication. But he didn’t let that stop him. He wrote and self-published a book and sold it on Amazon. This sort of drive runs in our family.
When I don’t recognize a younger self in the mirror anymore, I want the face looking back to show proof of a life well lived. I gave life my best shot. In ten years when I’m 84, I want to go to an Aspen-like destination and rather than buckle myself into ski boots and sail down the steep hill, I want to clip my shoes into my pedals and climb up that steep hill. Then my friends and followers can say “Biker Chick’s Gone Crazy!”