I turned 70 this week. Yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. Yes, Thomas, you can go home again. And yes, Dorothy, I’m not in Kansas anymore. This post is all about me,me,me… and what I think. This post is my very subjective, very selfish, very self-indulgent birthday gift to myself. I can do that, you know.
70. It’s just a number… a number and nothing more. Remember 25? OMG – we’re a quarter of a century old. Oh, the angst… what have I done with my life up to this point? Holy shit, almost nothing! I’ve been a student and a kid for 18 of those years and screwed off the last 3. Who am I? Where am I going?? How did I get to be 25 with nothing much to show for it except maybe a bachelor’s degree in something I’m not even interested in anymore??
By the time we’re forty we mostly know the answers to the questions like, who we would become, how would we make a living, would we get married, have a family, be successful? Would we be famous, maybe wealthy… would we live a full, healthy, happy life? Would we be fulfilled?? I love the two questions Morgan Freeman quoted to Jack Nicholson in “The Bucket List…” paraphrasing now – “Did you experience joy in your life? Did you bring joy to others?”
Even at 70, there are a few unanswered questions, mostly because of change. We don’t stop changing, growing at 50, or even 70. The Buddhists tell us that all in this tangible world is impermanent. Makes sense. We are physically forced by the time/space continuum we’ve found ourselves in, to change whether we like it or not, whether we want to or not. And what the hell’s wrong with change anyway? Especially if it connotes improvement, growth… I’m here to tell you that at 70 I still want to grow, to improve, and so does my B, also in her 70’s. ‘Course, it would be nice to know that there is still a little fun to be had in all that changing and growing…
As it turns out, our culture is somewhat responsible for how we age… individually and collectively. Unless you’re a crack accountant or the CEO of something, you will pretty much be put out to pasture by the time you turn sixty. It has happened to a lot of my friends and acquaintances, and it’s not pretty. So, we must also perceive for ourselves who we are at any given age and how we feel about ourselves, totally separate from our culture-given concepts. Oops, suddenly we’re 65… time to retire. And because we’re retiring, we must be old now. Wait… says WHO?
Many of my relatives began acting old at 50. Some of them worked that hard and were pretty much used up. But some of them were simply of that generation that had watched their previous generations become old at 50 and 60, so they figured they were old, too. My parents, and some of their friends stayed young at heart up into their late 70’s, even though they had worked hard all their lives, too. As their bodies slowly wore out, they continued to smile, laugh, tell a good joke, have a twinkle in their eye. Not that easy to do when everything physical is going south on you. But we all know and remember people like that, don’t we? And can we not be people like that, when it’s our turn??
I’m aware that it’s not in all of us to be that way when we get up into our 60’s and 70’s. Genetics, health and general attitude over the years go a long way in defining us in the last years of our lives… how creative we are, how accepting we are, how sharing we are, how loving we are.
Are we happy with who we became? Are we still a bit of a work in progress? Do we have a bucket list? Have we fulfilled most of it? Does it matter??…… Only if it matters to you.
Usually by 40 we know some of our successes and failures. We learn when to trust our instincts and when to listen to the council of our friends. Some of us learn, over time, what’s really important in life, while others of us never do. I’d guess that, for many of us, having our children is by far the most important, most honorable thing we ever do in our lives. I only had one, but he remains my crowning achievement in this lifetime.
I’ve had only one close brush with death in these 70 years. I almost drowned in the Firehole River in Yellowstone Park while working for the Forest Service when I was 21. It’s funny… your life really does flash before your eyes. I remember when I was 7 or 8, having just seen the movie “Kilimanjaro,” thinking “Gee, if I can just stay away from lions and tigers all my life, I might get to live a long time.” Well. At that age, we don’t really know what form the lions and tigers are going to take. Suffice to say they are out there in the world in many forms and I barely, barely got away from a few of them.
“But what’s it really like, Steve, being 70?” Simple. You think and feel more, and move less. Food and drink affect us more. The value of friends and loved ones raises dramatically. Coffee smells and tastes even better, and the first drink of the evening is an event, as there is this almost imperceptible feeling that, as the sun is slowly setting in the West, it’s also slowly setting on you. In that vein, an abiding, working spirituality suddenly serves you very well. I highly recommend having a loved one to live out our lives with. I am truly blessed to live with my loved one, B, for there is a peace and serenity in each day now that I could not have without her. What the Beatles sang years ago rings more true every day now… “All you need is love, Luv… Love Is All You Need.”
I took myself to dinner at The South Of France restaurant in Atlanta on my 42nd birthday. There was a big fire in their hearth and I was enjoying a glass of red before dinner. I remember thinking that I was getting pretty good at living it “one day at a time” and had my life moving as slowly as possible. Yeah, right… and now that evening seems like yesterday. But that’s going to happen with all of us. I’d get better at it in another lifetime or two… hell, we all would. Hard as we might try, it goes by too fast.
I think that a good birthday is one that holds a modest celebration of a life with their loved ones and good friends. I think it is one that holds a time to take stock, much like New Year’s Eve… a time for reflection and perhaps a re-dedication to our values and dreams. Oh yes, we still have dreams at 70. Mine?? Easy… to kayak Montana’s lakes and rivers this summer, to go 4-wheeling in the high country with B, to play more jazz with M. J. up in Helena, to camp with B along Alder Creek, to self-publish another book. You see, there are always more exciting things to do, more challenges to be met, more dreams to bring to reality… funny, isn’t it? We never really get it all done, do we? And perhaps that’s life in a nutshell, getting from point A to point B, and how we get there. So if I happen to see you somewhere, and you notice I’m moving a little slower and continue to look a little older… well, of course. But if there’s no twinkle in my eye, or I don’t smile when I see you and have a hug or a joke for you, then kick me and tell me to get over myself… that’s what B would do.