Age may just be a number, but when there’s a really BIG number looming on the birthday horizon, it’s impossible not to ruminate about its significance. So, hang on my lovelies (men included here) while I meander my way along this muddy streambed.
I came across this interesting little tidbit. In 1950 the life expectancy for newborns was around 60 years, and only in parts of the world with advanced nutrition and health care like North America. I was born in Canada in 1949. Since 60 has come and gone, I’ve definitely outlived my original expiration date! I say original, with my fingers crossed, because in later years the global, average, life expectancy was raised to 72.6 years. That number, 72, tucked itself into the recesses of my subconscious. In my forties I took out a life insurance policy that would expire at 72.
When we’re in our twenties, as hard as it is then to imagine getting old, we still entertain expectations of how life would be by the time we reached certain milestone birthdays. As life progresses, reality usually pushes imaginings into the nearest ditch. I know I don’t speak for everyone, but….
By the time I hit 60, I’d long let go of my picture of reaching that “ripe, old age” surrounded by grandchildren and a large, extended family. I actually felt anything but old when I turned 60. Relieved, maybe, to have made it that far after a cancer diagnosis at 51, but not old. The decade between 50 and 60 had been a bit of a bitch. So, by the time I turned 60, I was into living life and ready to make up for lost time, which I started doing right out of the gate. On my 60th birthday, my husband joined me for my first ballroom dance lesson. Jumping on the birthday bandwagon he also arranged for a golf lesson with a pro, and took me on my first ever bike ride along a biking trail. The weekend included a super Italian dinner with our kids (blended family), finished off with a great cake! I was on a roll.
I continued racking up new experiences: the exhilaration (pure terror) of my first snow skiing lesson including a face-plant in the snow (ski lift exit), the nervous thrill of stepping out of my comfort zone to dance in expos and competitions (ballroom & country-western), and the total rush of zip-lining five courses as I tried to keep up with a cousin 20+ years my junior. I made memories travelling with girlfriends. We expanded our family by one additional recue dog and a Humane Society cat. As I continued to hone my writing skills, more stories and poems were accepted for publication. I started revising one of my draft novels. I even ventured back into the classroom, becoming a student for the first time in 30 years. I hit 70 on a high note. My husband brought my best friend over from England as a birthday surprise, and my finished novel was published a few weeks before the end of that year.
So, you ask, if the big traumatic event isn’t turning 60 or even 70, then what the hell is it? Turning SEVENTY-TWO, I say, a little tremulously! That subconsciously feared expiration date of 72 recently jumped out of hiding and started strutting its stuff. The numbers flashed in front of my face like a huge, neon billboard. The words reverberated like being inside Big Ben at high noon. (At least before its bells were shut down for repairs. A hint maybe that I should shut down for repairs?)
It’s always interesting what ends up buried in one’s mind and even more interesting is when it decides to claw its way up to the surface. Bloody hell. Get a grip, woman. Deep breath. I believe I now have all of this angst more or less sorted and under control.
So…statistics be damned. I’m not done yet! (My mouth to God’s ear.) I have books waiting to be read, friendships to explore, writing to tackle, French to re-learn, and wonders to capture with my camera lens. I’m not ready to let go of most of my “stuff” (although I’ve started passing some of it on.) I need to live long enough to outlive my critters and ensure they are loved, but not so long that I outlive my husband. I don’t think I could make it on my own.
I will acknowledge the BIG 72 with a grateful heart, a few regrets I’m coming to terms with, and optimistic plans that extend a few years out. And, damn the diet; however I spend the big day it will include CAKE. Have you seen the viral video where a cake is “carved” via being scooped up with wine glasses. THIS ONE ! I want to do THAT!!
So, on February 2, please raise a glass with me (filled with cake or champagne, your choice), as I venture forward. I’ll banish entrenched old thinking, and toast to being here same time next year to celebrate turning 73. You are all invited. There will be cake.
Top picture in dress always worn to birthday parties. Approx. age 5 or 6. Montreal
cake server courtesy of my friend Jo, who knows me too well.
Whether it’s the start of a new year or a milestone like a birthday, we all need a fresh starting point from which we can say, “From this day forward, everything will be better.” My starting point is New Year’s Day, when I open my new, tightly wrapped wall calendar. Each page holds so much promise. My calendar is a threshold to a clean slate: memories to be made, opportunities to grasp, and resolutions to be fulfilled.
However, the older I get, the more I realize that opening up my new calendar only changes the month and year, not life itself, at least not on a human level. The sun will continue to rise and set, the moon will move through its phases, the weather will be whatever it decides to be—all independent of human intervention. As cliché as it might be, the only thing we mortals have the power to change is ourselves and how we react to those around us. Maybe though, if we step into this new year with a fresh attitude instead of the blind belief that, somehow, this year will be better, we might actually generate the change we so want. A simple ripple in the pond can grow into a widening circle.
Change is hard. Recognizing the fact that it’s often ourselves, not the other person, who has to change is harder. Baby steps. We can start small by consciously being kinder and more tolerant. We can be slower to anger and temper our reactions to a perceived slight or cross word. We all have flaws. Yes, I do mean you, but I also mean me. Flaws will show themselves in even the tightest weave, and cutting some slack just might keep the peace instead of causing everything to unravel. I know you’ve all been there. Makes me think about that old maxim I heard over and over from my mother: those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Holds as true today as it did when I was under my parents’ roof.
I think we need to step backward to move forward. What if we raised the bar on our everyday social interactions by bringing back the lost art of civil discourse? We could make a collective resolution to move into 2021 practicing something as ridiculously simple as saying “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. I’ll go one step further and add “excuse me” instead of “what the hell?” or “get out of my way, jerk.” That doesn’t sound so painful, does it? We can learn to bite our tongues, swallowing that critical or defensive thought before we let it fly into the ethers. It’s not a boomerang. You can’t get it back. Stilling our fingers on the keyboard (or thumbs on our mobile devices), and having that second think before we hit ‘send’ could make our small corner of the world a kinder, gentler place. I’m showing my age here, but I truly believe there were fewer misunderstandings when people hand-wrote letters, talked on the phone, or better yet, conversed face-to-face. You can’t insert intonation into a text no matter how many emojis you plug into the message.
Smiles light up our eyes. We can try smiling more underneath our masks, which we all WILL wear because this nasty virus can’t survive without a human host. And maybe, if we are lucky enough to find ourselves with a bit of extra cash this year, we could gift a bit to the food bank, the diaper bank, a pet rescue, or someone you know who’s doing their best but having a damn hard time anyway. Practice kindness and stop judging.
I opened my new 2021 calendar this morning and found a Facebook friend’s dog (one of his Australian Terriers) featured on the January page. Such a lovely surprise. Now to put all my words into action, I must remember to tell him how special that was. Being an optimist, I truly do wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year, filled with joy and opportunities to make wonderful memories. But I stick by my pragmatic guns and have to say that if we want 2021 to be a better year, making it so is on us. Collectively, we can do it.
photo: sun reflecting on the Santa Catalina Mountains, New Year's Eve, 2020