Monday, December 25, 2017

On turning 70, gratefully

Sandwiched between Christmas and New Year's, my birthday on December 30 traditionally has been half-forgotten but not this year, when I will hit the big Seven-Oh. 

Birthdays that end in zero are usually met with anticipation; they mark a passage to a new stage in life. When we turn twenty,  college graduation and the beginning of a career—even marriage—lie ahead. And so on. 

At sixty, your knees begin cracking, your back creaking, amid the prospect of retirement. You may hear some old people argue that sixty is the new fifty but that's delusional baloney. 

At seventy, time is definitely running out. Your inevitable slide down the ravine of old age is here, ultimately followed by the Big D. Seventy is not the new sixty. Seventy is old.


It seems there are three ways of dealing with the challenges and uncertainties of life in your seventies. 

Some propose to take it strictly one day at a time, which can turn into a form of denial—just don't think about it. 

Reexamining the past and what one has accomplished is a minefield of could've beens and might've beens. Even geniuses are tortured by morning-after doubts and second thoughts—and most of us are not Mozarts or Einsteins to begin with. 

When you live in a geriatric fishbowl like San Miguel de Allende the future can seem daunting too. You are surrounded by a cohort of old expats, many of them good friends, who are falling apart, falling down or having trouble standing up, or you hear about crippling illnesses you never knew existed. 

Friends die regularly sometimes after long illnesses or tragic circumstances. Someone I know who regularly visited a ninety-year-old living alone to be sure he was alright, one day found him sitting on the toilet, dead. I pray for a more elegant exit.  

It's the ultimate existential dilemma. If you do a search of this blog under "aging" you'll find several posts in which I massage this topic from various angles, with no conclusive answers.

The past can't be ignored but trying to edit it, as if it were a clumsy video, is useless and counterproductive. But it can be interpreted constructively, even positively. Humility is key. 

When I look at my own history, coming from Cuba alone at age fourteen, staying at a refugee camp and then in three foster homes, two of them abusive situations, followed by career and personal twists and turns worthy of the meanest roller coaster, it amazes me that my life turned out as well as it did. 

I did OK. That's it. There's no place for either vainglory or abject apologies. Humility is in order, followed by gratitude. Onward. 

Certainly my biggest blessing is having hooked up with another man who for the last forty five years has been a true friend, cheerleader and occasionally shoulder to cry on. Together we've survived crises such as alcoholism, unemployment and emotional zigzags that might have beaten us down had we tried to face them individually. We have retired comfortably.

By definition the future is sketchy unless you know a credible palm reader or own a crystal ball. Drop me a note if you do. 

While in San Miguel we've witnessed illnesses and deaths, but also been lucky to have friends who have gracefully entered their eighties and even nineties with grace and with their engines firing on all cylinders. I try to learn something about either their courage in facing adversity or the secrets for enjoying every new day. 

Two common traits seem to be resoluteness and optimism, which in some situations do not come easily. But we must persist: The alternatives are nothing if not self-defeating. 

And so off to New York on Wednesday for a week to celebrate this landmark birthday. We plan to see a musical and a new production of Tosca by the Metropolitan Opera, the latter conducted by a Mystery Maestro, now that James Levine has vanished. 

We'll also work our way through an impossibly long list of new movies that probably will never make it to backwater San Miguel, along with ethnic restaurants, a couple of museums, and time with good friends we have not seen in too long. 

This is an occasion for Stew and I to enjoy, even reward ourselves, for a reasonably happy life and to remember to be grateful for it. 

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