[NOTE: Elaine of Kalilily posted a wonderful birthday greeting for me on her site that includes a drop-dead funny video clip. It's like peanuts - betcha can't watch it just once...]
[FURTHER NOTE - 5AM: I had set this to publish on its own this morning, but I woke early and discovered a whole bunch of birthday greetings. You are - every one of you - the absolute best. Thank you.]
So swiftly passes a year at my age. It seems only yesterday I was writing here about “when I’m 64” and today, I have reached what is generally considered to be the traditional age of full retirement. Sixty-five. Halfway through my seventh decade. One of those rites-of-passage birthdays - like 13 (if you are Jewish), 21 (legal adulthood) and 50 (the half-century mark) - that rings with portent.
I am always irritated when people say, “I don’t feel 65.” Or 70 or 75, etc. Of course they do. Since not one of us knows what it feels like to be older than we are, whatever we feel is what that age feels like. Equally irritating are recent boomer slogans such as “50 is the new 30.” Anyone who can’t tell the difference is a case of arrested development and a contributor to our youth-crazed, ageist culture.
The downsides of becoming 65 have, so far, been minimal. I don’t have the stamina and strength I once had and need to spread out chores and errands over longer periods of time. But I don’t find that a burden. I like the extra walks necessary to finish shopping, and if it’s harder to stay awake into the wee hours, I’ve known since my twenties that nothing noteworthy happens at the party past midnight.
Famous and celebrated contemporaries who have defined the era in which I have lived die more frequently now. Just last year, Richard Pryor, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Prince Rainier of Monaco, Hunter Thompson, Arthur Miller, Johnny Carson, Betty Friedan.
Youngsters who know these people only historically probably can’t grasp the force with which each one, at their peak, etched his or her sensibility on the public consciousness of the second half of the 20th century. But that was then and this is now.
In recent years, the rightness of death makes more sense to me. Those scientists who spend millions researching life extension, predicting 200-year life spans one day, are selfish and wrong. Elders must make way for younger people who are unencumbered by attachments to the past and are a better match to new times, new eras, new issues. (More about this soon.)
The upsides of getting older far outweigh the negatives. I am more patient with myself and others. Experience has alleviated the fears that plagued my twenties, thirties and even forties. Having learned that aside from putting a gun to one’s head, few decisions are irrevocable, they come more easily now and with less anguish.
Well, maybe not all decisions. This turned out to be a significant year. Settling in New York City in 1969 was a childhood dream and in a sense, all 28 years before were prelude. I have been extraordinarily happy living here, so much so that when I bought this cozy, little apartment, 23 years ago, on one of the prettiest streets in Greenwich Village, it felt so permanent that I told friends I would be taken out feet first - it was my last move.
We should be wary of asserting such absolutes. At about this time last year, months of fruitless searching for work forced me to rethink that pronouncement. I agonized for weeks about what I knew was inevitable and then, in a long, sleepless weekend spent pacing, weeping, shaking my fist at the gods and the insidious bigotry of age discrimination in the workplace, I made a hard-won decision to sell my apartment and move to a less expensive part of the country.
I had many months to make peace with that decision as it took longer to sell my apartment than either the real estate agent or I expected. Now, with my New York home at last sold, I am eager to begin my next adventure in a new place.
Already, I have the core of a personal community in Portland, Maine. Packing cartons arrived this week. Moving day is set for late May with settling into a new home to begin a week or so later. And what a relief that will be.
My life has been disordered and disorderly for nearly six years. The dotcom at which I was employed collapsed abruptly in mid-2000 owing me (still) $25,000. I was unemployed that time for 14 months and the job I eventually found required a four-hour daily commute leaving no time or energy for a personal life for two-and-a-half years.
For nearly a year after I was laid off from that job, I beat my head against the wall of a bad job market and age discrimination until this decision to leave New York, and then I waited seven months for the sale of my apartment. Some downtime and routine will be a welcome change.
We celebrate holidays to remind us of our common history or our faith. Anniversaries and birthdays mark time, allowing us to take stock of the recent past, to renew our commitments to ourselves and others, and to create new beginnings. It is hard sometimes not to believe that the universe has its reasons, and it seems to me an excellent time to let go of one life and start another on such a momentous birthday as 65.
“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away,
The sky is filled with stars invisible by day.”
- - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Morituri Salutamus