If 50 is the new 30, and 60 is the new 40, then is it too far fetched to assume that 70 is the new 50?
Instead of celebrating my 70th birthday fast approaching, HuffPost reader Pratitya recently suggested that instead I call it "the 40th anniversary of my 30th birthday." While it's tempting to consider skirting the reality of the number of years I've spent on the planet, something is calling me to face it head on -- no cute little euphemisms about "70 being the new 50," etc. I think it's time to call a spade a spade.
While today's 70 year old is nothing like the 70 year olds of my parents' generation, there is no mistaking the fact that by any measure, turning 70 marks the beginning of a whole new territory in life, one we used to call "old age." Funny though, except for those rare occasions when I've completely overdone it on the physical plane, I rarely feel "old."
But what is "old" exactly? And what does it mean to be 70 in a society that worships youthfulness and people strive to maintain it at all costs?
Does turning 70 mean that it's time to give up on living? Does it mean losing interest in the things that have heretofore been the source of passion and aliveness? Does it mean that we're swept into the corner, left to gather mold and dust until we finally fade away? What the heck is this aging business all about anyway?
I can only tell you this: From my own perspective here on the threshold of this new territory, like everything else in life, getting older is exactly what we tell ourselves it is, no more and no less. If we buy into the cultural stereotype of aging, then it probably means all of the above and we will march in lock step straight to the rocking chair of life and promptly fall fast asleep.
But it doesn't have to be this way. I believe we can age gracefully, not fighting or denying the fact, take a turn in the rocking chair, put our feet up and take a little time out. At 70, one has earned regular time outs. But that doesn't mean setting up camp there and falling asleep! The rocking chair is a well-deserved respite, but notice that for it to do what it was designed to do, it must be kept in motion. And so must we. "A rolling stone gathers no moss," and all that sort of thing.
Staying in motion means more than just remaining physically active, although doing so is critical for us elders. Getting older also means learning to appreciate this stage of life as a new adventure. There is still much to be discovered! This time of life offers up a whole new possibility for learning and engaging in creative expression.
But only if we get our minds wrapped around it. One can do pretty much anything if we get our minds "right." You and I know this to be true, and navigating old age is no different.
To be sure, there is a new curriculum awaiting us at this threshold. Based on my own experience and that of others I know who are at this stage of life, one can expect to be given plenty of opportunities to let go of what is no longer necessary for the journey ahead. That can end up looking like loss on many levels, and depending upon how we frame it, loss can either be freeing or be the source of suffering. Ask me how I know!
Think about how you define yourself today. Who are you? Someday, your answer to that question will begin to shift and you will find yourself in a somewhat nebulous place of uncertainty, after a lifetime of thinking you were one thing, only to discover that identity no longer fits. Someday, you will reach a point where you're no longer your title or your job description. You might still be somebody's wife or husband, mother or father, but in the final analysis, is that who you really are?
Are we defined by our relationships? By the people we love? By our good works? By our mistakes? By our misgivings, fears, or regrets? How does one's identity morph over a lifetime? And how do we let go of what no longer fits and remain open, trusting, loving, engaged, connected, and passionate about life while waiting to discover who we are in this new moment?
It strikes me that I'm not only talking about the aging process. A friend recently shared her experience of moving back to the States after living abroad for over a year. She didn't appreciate how much of a process it would be to make this transition. She thought she would just pick up where she left off, that family relationships would resume as before. What she didn't anticipate was that life moves on and people change. Now she's feeling challenged to cope with the gap between where her mind thought she would be now and where she actually is.
This is the human story, whether we're young or old. Life keeps on moving and so must we. At age 70, I appreciate more than ever all the years I've put in at the gym keeping fit and strong, so that today, I can keep on moving, physically and in consciousness. I appreciate more than ever my lifelong devotion to learning, my sometimes "terminal" curiosity about people and what makes them come alive. I appreciate the little girl that still lives in me who always wants to know and see what's beyond the bend in the road and committed to figuring out a way to get there.
I am deeply grateful that my younger self had the courage to wade into the deep waters of consciousness, even though it wasn't easy or comfortable at times. She is the one who now keeps me awake, along with a community of kindred spirits like you, my friends and family, and those important teachers and mentors who've helped me stay on the path.
Growing up in the '40s and '50s my fantasies about life were inspired by Hollywood romance movies and "Father Knows Best." My life doesn't look like either, but frankly, I prefer reality, warts and all. Remember the warts from our last discussion? Well at 70, they take on new meaning. Just wait and see.
My thanks to you, dear readers, for coming to this watering hole most every week for nearly four years and for sharing this amazing journey of discovery. I plan on sticking around for at least another 20, so stay tuned, as I send back postcards from this new frontier.
I'd love to hear your perspectives on aging or any other thoughts that strike you from this discussion. Please leave your comments here and/or come pay a visit to my personal blog and website at Rx For The Soul. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear from you personally!
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Blessings on the path.
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