A few weeks ago, I had some friends visiting, staying overnight. We were sitting around the breakfast table chatting. They had to get back home, about a three hours drive away, for a doctor’s appointment that afternoon. I said I hope it’s nothing serious. No, just routine. I’m getting old, I’m seventy, he said with a look mixed with pain and surprise. She said, I’m seventy-one. Again, with pain, and maybe a tinge of horror.
I looked at him and said: Seventy! thinking that’s old. But then I realized, I’m turning seventy-five in a few weeks. Actually, it is today, in fact. I am now officially, seventy-five years as of this morning! But I don’t think of myself as old. I met these friends when we were in our mid forties. To me, we are still in our forties.
Seventy-five years: sounds like a long time. But not to me. It feels like just yesterday that I was four, seven, twenty-one. I don’t remember the day I was born; I’m sure it wasn’t too cold or too warm. Just another pre-winter Friday in Washington, D.C..
To most of you, seventy-five must sound old. When I was very young, sixteen seemed old, then thirty and then forty. When I was fifty, I thought my life was just beginning. My children were now adults, taking care of themselves, doing well. I felt free and alive. At sixty, I left town; I was ashamed of growing older. I didn’t want anyone to know I was no longer a young thing. But now, I celebrate being stronger, more steady, capable, and flexible. I am, in fact, not your usual seventy-five year old. At least from what I see around me.
I have a couple of neighbors I visit who live at the other end of the brook where I take my dog, Lila, for walks sometimes. They are a year or two older than me. Yet they think of themselves as old, tell me they can’t garden so much, don’t hear so well, etc. They have very kindly give me some plants as they prune down their lives. I’m cleaning house too, purging excesses, getting rid of unnecessary items, books, papers, and such, thinking perhaps it is a sign of growing older, or at least, of growing up. People are often telling me I will have to give up my house and move to a condo some day. I tell them I can’t think about that now. I would like to live here until I die. But there is no way I can know now about tomorrow.
I find getting older fascinating: like watching fire burn. It goes up, gets stronger, has down times, needs feeding, strengthens again, and eventually fades out. The best part, maybe, about getting older is being able to look back dispassionately on my life. Yes, I have made mistakes, some very big, but I can’t change that. I can only change how I relate to that, how I am today. From that viewpoint, my life has been interesting, good. An adventure.
Maybe I’m just lucky, come from hearty stock. I’ve been asked often my secret to looking so youthful. I usually answer: stress! I’m not completely jesting; in truth, stress keeps me alert and active. As well, I can credit all the things I do to refresh the body and mind: the tai chi, qi gong, meditation, walking, playing, friends, reading, whatever. But I also think it is making art that keeps me young. It is a process of staying in that open mind, like a child, a very young child. Or maybe I make art because I just don’t know how to grow old!