Muir Woods, California
Today I am having one of those epic birthdays, right on the heels of Thanksgiving, that are thrust upon you to get your complete attention and sober you up about life. I am beginning to feel like a giant Redwood. Last year launched me involuntarily and against my protests into a new decade and now, a brief, fleeting, sort of nano-second year later I have my first year of that decade already under my belt. My belt is tightening with all the decades under it. When I was growing up I never could imagine I’d be this old, and I thought that if by any chance I was, someday, this old, I would be at death’s door – shriveled and feeble and ditsy and wrinkled and not having any fun at all. Might as well be dead, I thought.
I am none of those things, to my own amazement. I walk normally, I can still run and climb steep mountain trails, I am not at all feeble, and/or ditsy. I have a gorgeous boyfriend and yes we are lovers. I am a bit wrinkled but so are my younger friends, and I am having Tons Of Fun, enjoying one of the greatest periods of time in my life. Who knew it would be like this? I still listen to the R&R station on the radio when I drive because it is upbeat and infinitely more energizing than the news talk shows. I do believe that the channels you listen to on the car radio are revealing of your internal state of affairs. Please don’t listen to those idiotic and arrogant “spouter – offers” who seem to want every single person on the planet to believe as they do. They will pollute your day, robbing it of any optimism and cheerfulness, and eventually sour your mind and your soul on life. Listen to the fun stuff.
Yesterday around the Thanksgiving table we were discussing how old all of us are. Finally I offered the info to my sweet 5 year old great-niece that I was going to be 71 today. Her eyes widened, she looked at me and said, “Great (she drops off the “aunt” ) Jo, you are going to die!” Everyone laughed and I was the first to agree with her. But I am not dying today. I am nowhere near being finished.
Honestly, composing this blog is my attempt at brushing off this birthday with clever observations when in reality my birthday is always a deeply emotional moment in time for me. Last week I was reminded again and mourned again the fact that JFK was killed just a week before my 21st birthday. I can’t say that I enjoy birthdays anymore when they are my own. I have a reputation for making other people’s birthdays special and spectacular, but not my own. I see my own as harsh reminders. I am always glad glad glad when the day is over and I can stop the celebration. I can’t wait to move on…..I appreciate everything that loving people do for me, but moving on is my desire.
What I will say to you now is nothing more than the obvious – life seems to grind along most of the time like a slow and heavy wheel, but it is a true phenomenon that when you get older the years begin to fly by. I first noticed this when I turned about 50. The number of years you have lived are greater in length and represent a higher percentage of your probable lifetime than the years you have ahead, and so an urgency settles in. You have that feeling – that looking over your shoulder feeling – that something is chasing you. Instead of trying to run faster, you understand that no matter how fast you can still run, the years are gaining on you, gobbling up your time. You have a lot you want to do and an indefinite period of time in which to do it. If you are an artist, as I am, you know that you are painting better than ever but the payment you make for that reward is a loss of time. Every single day is precious, every holiday, every visit, every moment. Every brushstroke on your canvas has to count.
Gratitude is a word you begin to use more often. Thankfulness. Astonishment at your blessings. But you want to feed the hungry children, save the whales, see peace in your lifetime, witness miracles, travel into space, and leave a lasting legacy. You wonder about lost opportunities, you have experienced forgiveness, you hope for second chances, there are mistakes you can still correct….. you often feel unworthy…..you would like to believe in reincarnation. You value living in a country where life itself is the greatest gift and every life is valued, a country where we can all make a difference and freedom is the consistent, primary focus. But it’s getting late.
It is my 71st birthday right now but tomorrow I will be ok again.