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“You guys are old. I’m sorry but you are!” So said the middle-aged father of our only grandson. I acknowledged his accurate assessment of our age in numbers. My husband and I share a combined total of 148 years. “But what does that mean?” I wondered later.
I feel old sometimes. I even use it as an excuse: for leaving a dance party before it really gets started, or not attending every event presented at the Deep Water Literary Festival, or for declining to host a soiree. Yet, I am also not too old. I’m not too old to ride my bike, kayak on the river, try out a comedy routine on a local stage, or start a new business.
I am old enough to remember the Presidential election of 1956 and its “I Like Ike” chants. Old enough to remember the bi-centennial celebrations of 1976 and the moon landing in 1969. Old enough to have memories of attending the muddy Woodstock festival that same year.
My mother hated the idea of aging. Maybe my willing acceptance of it is a kind of rebuff to her. As a teenager, I always wanted the so-called wisdom of age. I wanted to be taken seriously—as seriously as I took myself, then. So much for that, as my step-son’s assessment proves. He sees our age as a weakness, a need to be protected and to have our wisdom leavened with his.
I am still younger than the oldest female presidential candidate. My husband is only barely older than Joe Biden. Neither of us can imagine taking on such a job, let alone the campaign for such a job at our age. But we know age is different for everybody. A few years ago, I forbade him from cleaning the gutters on our house. Until then, he would regularly climb out onto the second story roof to do it. Jill Biden probably wouldn’t let Joe clean the gutters either. Leading the free world is not any less treacherous, but you have lots of help.
The worst part of aging is illness. Staying strong is the best protection I have learned. If you have a reservoir of strength, you can weather the inactivity of illness that much better. My aunt had a major stroke in her 70s. She was still working every day as a psychotherapist until then, and she had stayed strong doing Pilates regularly. When the stroke felled her, it was her physical strength that helped her survive.
Some people make plans for their old age. I’m not one of those. I find it hard to imagine being less able than I am now. But I go to Pilates every week and note the strength I have gained since beginning that practice. I think about climbing the stairs to our bedroom. How will that be if I live to be 90? My “plan” is to keep on climbing every day until I can’t.
My husband chooses to stay strong doing chores. Barred from the rooftop, he has relegated himself to the attic, carrying boxes of books and memorabilia from the garage up three flights of stairs. Our recent move from Brooklyn meant fitting two complete households into one. In a planned future, we might have chosen to live out our dotage in the first-floor apartment of our doorman building there. Rather, we preferred the small-town life in Narrowsburg. It’s what we feel we want as we grow older. In the end, the only life we can really plan is the one we are living right now.