I just turned 900 months old. Some say that calls for a platinum celebration; in England it warrants a diamond jubilee. I accept that that’s my body’s age and it’s kind of a milestone, but it feels surreal. Man, that’s a lot of years. It’s like I time-traveled from being the youngest in my class to the oldest on my block. The a-ha of it lies in the lovely secret revealed when I blew out all those candles. Housed inside my softer body lies basically the same me I was decades ago. Like concentrated orange juice, I’m 40-year-old me, only more so.
What shifts in your mind when you hear someone’s 75? We all grow up aspiring to reach it, while at the same time dreading the thought. I saw a card that said, “Bad news you’re 75. Good news I’m not.” I’m here to tell the person who wrote that card a thing or two (while admitting that’s definitely a phrase a person of my age would use). It’s not funny. Your mean-spirited assumptions are lazy and unreliable. Growing older has enough challenges without having to refute the damaging stereotypes you’re peddling. Hope I made you feel bad.
I don’t identify as an old person. My age is one of my attributes, like being a good Scrabble player or a New Yorker or a Sondheim fan. I still love bubble gum and Harry Styles, never miss SNL and shop at Anthropologie. I still watch the Grammys, wear Skims (Kim Kardashian’s underwear line) and the curiosity that made me become a person who writes hasn’t diminished. Most importantly I’m still relevant in the lives of those who matter to me. So seriously, how withered and teetery can I be?
I see things I used to just look at, like the astounding miracle of a big pregnant belly. Dinners at 6:30? The better to add another hour of binge watching. While I don’t try to run as fast as I can for the train…or walk down a flight of steps without holding onto the bannister, it’s no biggie. Hearing aids are now unnoticeable and rechargeable. It’s no exaggeration to say the extra pills I take daily actually save my life. I appreciate the gift of turning this age in 2022.
Growing older is the one path we all travel. I grew up following a carefully plotted roadmap but the generation before me left no directions for this part of my life. If I look in the rearview mirror, I’m thrilled to never take another math test…or interview for a job…or worry about turning 75. When you reach this landmark birthday, you’ve seen the glorious and painful big picture and you have a sense of clarity about what’s coming down the pike. You take the small stuff less seriously. It takes a lot more to throw you.
I read a newspaper headline that said, “Man pleads guilty in DWI collision that killed woman, 74.” It made me wonder why how old she was was a pertinent fact in bold type. Was it more of a crime because she was 74… or less of a crime? Unless you’re Greta Thunberg or Jane Fonda, I think the automatic inclusion of your age in every story is a bad habit. Except when it comes to the obituaries. I read that alphabetical list of the dearly departed with my coffee each morning. What accomplishments did their loved ones find worth including in those few column inches? How old were they? Anyone else have cancer? Their stories have helped me figure out what’s important, sometimes influencing me to live my day a little differently. More aware. More appreciative.
I think the next time someone asks me how old I am… and I don’t like the insinuation… I’m going to ask them how much they weigh. I’d never be brave enough to say that years ago but people forgive or at least accept your honesty when you’re 24 in Celsius years. After you experience more bliss and more tragedy than you ever could have foreseen, your resilience earns you that right. Along with the right, when you’re facing any situation where you’re thinking, “do I have to?” to absolutely say “No.”
I recently heard Anna Quindlen say she didn’t know of one writer who actually likes to write. Her colleagues dread it. They fear it. And they’ll procrastinate in the most creative ways to avoid sitting down and doing it. Sort of how we feel as we approach scary sounding milestone birthdays. We have to keep in mind that each of our lives is a best seller to those who love us. Here’s to celebrating our hard-won success.