Hanging out at Seventy
A strategy for advancing age
Hanging Out at Seventy
I am seventy years old. Not officially, mind you. But I have decided to claim that honor for myself, albeit a little early. In truth, on my last birthday, I turned sixty-nine. And I should be glad of it, staving off another marker of aging. But rather than avoiding it for one last year, I am embracing it, staring it down, thumbing my nose at it. Many people who cross that threshold celebrate the transition with a big bash, but I will not. By adopting it artificially early, I will have snuck into my seventies while no one is watching.
I remember well the penultimate year of each decade of my life. I used the ninth year of each to console myself that I was still of that decade – that I had not yet passed on to the next. I suppose it felt better to do so. My husband and most of my friends pioneered each passage at least a year or two before me and I proudly wore the distinction of the “baby of the group.” They enjoyed lording that over me. But in a more substantive sense, it was they who were serving me; they were all my scouts in aging. It was as if I had sent them on ahead to let me know the landscape, helping me to better prepare.
This delusion worked especially well when turning forty. I approached the fourth decade without fear, as I saw particularly my female friends looking vibrant, thriving in their careers, and, past the drudge years of diapers and sleep deprivation, enjoying their children who were starting to exhibit various elements of adulthood. If they could look and feel so good, then so could I. And so I did.
Turning fifty, I benefited in another way. Again, looking at female friends and colleagues, I visualized a proverbial fork in the road. To the right, trotted off the ones who had biked, hiked, skied, or swum their way into their fifties. They had retained their youthful air, even as hair grayed and wrinkles appeared. To the left, shuffling along, carting their medications for cholesterol, blood pressure, and adult onset of diabetes, were those whose weight made every movement ponderous, and every physical malady provided another excuse to stay home and stay sedentary. I took good notes: Avoid the road to the left.
But sixty brought me up short. I was now looking at the prospect of retiring, of grandparenthood, of Medicare. All my scouts, even the ones still active and looking good, were facing the challenges of aging – torn rotator cuffs, replacement hips, slipping memory, and cancer. I hung on to fifty-nine as I would to a life preserver thrown in stormy seas, buffeted by the impending doom of my birthday and knowing that the Coast Guard had no more tools of survival to offer.
So, this year, I am doing it differently. My blinders firmly in place, I am not looking at the fortunes of others. Rather, I am claiming the new decade for myself the year before I get there. If I call myself seventy for the whole year, if every time I look in the mirror, I say to myself, “Not bad for seventy,” (instead of “I’m not seventy yet”), I will have so acclimated to the word that it will hardly cause a ripple when the calendar moves me on officially. I will reject any offers of celebration, other than the usual cards and gifts that my family might routinely provide. And when I turn seventy-one, I will console myself that I am in my early seventies and ignore the oncoming decade of eighty - until I’ve decided on my next strategy.*
*Note: At this publishing, I am 29 days from the official event. I’ll let you know if my ruse worked!