My daughter was barely two and had to reach up for my hand to negotiate the steps down to the car when we came out of the Burlingame Post Office. While I waited for her to get herself together–the big world takes time to navigate at two–I overheard two elderly ladies chatting next to me.
“I can’t believe I’m 72. And honestly, I don’t feel any different.” I turned to have a look at Methuselah’s mother.
Tall, regal, silver-haired with a face as cratered with wrinkles as my morning prunes. I felt a shudder of disbelief. She seemed almost happy about her upcoming milestone, and I wondered how she could even name the number in public.
How embarrassing, I thought. Seventy-two. Do people even live that long?
I turned away with with what I shamefully admit was a small touch of horror.
Probably the Grim Reaper passing over my own grave to remind me he was waiting in the wings.
I bundled my condescending young self and my baby into the car, but the memory trailed after me.
I just bought myself a birthday gift. Perspective. The best pair of eyeglasses on the market.
I’m well past 72 now, a time that seems youthful in comparison to my current age of 79.99999999999999999. I turn 80 in 4.5 weeks, and I just bought myself a birthday gift. Perspective. The best pair of eyeglasses on the market.
If anything the’ve given me an appreciation for being my age and no younger.
I’m happy to turn 80. And when you get here, you will be too. Let me tell you why.
- 80 is the new 79.
We seem to think, when a big birthday looms, that when we cross that dreaded threshold it will bring with it a Cat. 5 typhoon somewhere in our body. But remember, we age one day at a time. When I turn 80 on July 11, barring some devastating health crisis over which I have no control, I will feel exactly the same way I do now at 79. If I were the ripe young 22-year-old on the post office steps contemplating the woman celebrating her seniorhood and suddenly found myself in my seventies, oh yeah, I’d have something to say about that. I’d be pissed, scared, and feel cheated out of my choice middle years.
But when you look at an older person (however old that is) with some mix of fear and pity, remember that’s going to be you one day. And when you get there, it won’t be with the shock of having stepped into some time warp where you were stripped of your youth in an instant and stuffed into an old, creaky body. It will happen to you the way it’s happened to me. Gradually, with occasional cloudy weather.
Aging can be harder on those who love us and watch the process. We all know what it means. The end is drawing nigh, whether that end is tomorrow or twenty years from now. The stooped posture and crepey skin is a reminder that all good things must come to an end. And young people want the party to go on.
Well, newsflash. So do the old folks. And for us, in so many good ways it is. I’m so I’m glad I’m turning 80 because I will feel exactly the way I do now. Which is alert, my brain firing on as many cylinders as I have left, doing what I love–writing. My back sore, my knee complaining, wobbling with a cane because my balance is wonky, but considering the battering I’ve taken from resisting the forces of gravity for 80 years, not all bad.
2. We dress so much better than our mothers and grandmothers.
I loved my mother more than words can say. But please, Mom. Who put you in housedresses, flowered aprons, oxfords with low heels, and said that was a good look for a sixty-year-old woman. You probably walked a hundred miles a week, as much as some thirty-somethings do today, but the hairdresser doused your gray hair in laundry bluing. Really? What better signal that you’re over the ill than to tag old ladies with bright blue hair. Here they come folks, duck and cover. The LOLs are on the loose. Deliver me.
I’m so glad I’m sashaying into my 80s with a head of Clairol’s Harvest Gold or whatever it is that my hairdresser uses to color my gray every few months. I don’t actually have that much gray hair. Luck of the genes. I just like having back the blond curls I had in my baby pictures. It takes the eye away from the age spots on my cheeks and the sags under my eyes. But my clothes? The only aprons I have are the cute ones my daughter makes me as gifts. I have them hanging in my kitchen as trophies. My wardrobe? I haven’t been asked to pose for the amazing old babes on that website yet that’s given new life to the idea of senior sartorial splendor, but I do my best.
3. Gyms take old people money.
You can continue spending your Social Security check on Pilates studios, yoga hot rooms, and exercise boot camps with nary a raised eyebrow at your age as long as you keeping handing over the Franklins every month. Private gyms and trainers will take your money to keep you fit and healthy into your upper decades six ways to Sunday. But we Super Seniors like to show off our pecs and quads at Silver Sneakers, the program that gives free gym memberships to the elderly to keep us fit and mobile. Growing old in your rocking chair is a thing of the past. When you get to be 80, you’ll probably be doing Iron Mans and ultra marathons given the way the elderly are being pushed out of the house and onto to exercise machines. And that’s only the third reason I’m glad I’m turning 80. The horror of sticking granny in the corner while everything atrophies from lack of use is a thing of the past.
4. Old People Still Like To Get It On.
My mother taught me a valuable lesson when she was in her eighties. Widowed and past the time she could care for herself alone, she moved into a senior living complex. The social atmosphere brought her back from a scary purse snatching episode that had threatened to rob her of her will to live. But within a week in the new place, the friends she made brought back her natural zest for life, and then, within a few weeks, she began talking about Ralph. In her thirteen years of widowhood, my mother had shown no interest in dating. But Ralph lit a spark and for the next three years until she died, he kept the stars in her eyes and a smile on her lips. Knowing my mother, I have no doubt their connection was affectionate but chaste. Yet what a legacy to leave her single daughter. There’s no age when you have to shut the door on love, whether you take it into the bedroom or not.
“Do you have a Ralph in your life?” she asked me one day on one of our frequent long-distant phone calls. She was 87. “I hope you do. Everybody should have a Ralph.”
Yes, they should, Mom. No matter how old they are.
5. If I’d been born at any other time, I’d never have reached 80.
I’ve saved the best for last. The top reason why I’m glad I’m reaching 80? Two words. Medical miracles. They’ve kept me alive. A surgery that replaced a bad heart valve hadn’t even been invented when I was looking askance at that 72-year-old woman in Burlingame. If I were her at that moment, I wouldn’t have lived to 73. The heart-lung machine and open heart surgery that saved my life hadn’t even been invented yet. Imagine how much more will be available to help you live a thriving life at 80 by the time you get here? So what are you afraid of?
But the best lesson of all about reaching 80 is that people die young, old, and in the middle. I’m grateful for every day I open my eyes. I just hope I keep on doing it as long as I can.