Arriving at age 75, alive, intact, and ready to roll into the future, I would like to share some reflections on the last seven-plus decades. I know. Can you believe it? Right?
The main thing is, I don’t have advice for anyone. I never thought that teetering into older age necessarily conferred wisdom or the right to tell others what to do. So carry on, make your own mistakes. You will soar, you will fall, and if you get up, you will move on.
I never made a big deal about birthdays, but this year is different. I feel changed by the pandemic experience, and inclined to be more open about the journey so far. Facing death will do that to you, and many of us have come to terms with our mortality, unless, of course, we deployed industrial-strength denial.
Authenticity in myself and others has become key. I don’t want to dance the dance anymore. I have always abhorred small talk, maybe because I’m not very good at it, but I have little tolerance for the “So, what are you watching these days?” although it is not beneath me to ask exactly that when I’m stuck with strangers. My preference is to get to the truth of the moment and exchange ideas, not chitchat.
I feel a freedom that I didn’t always carry with me in my careers in teaching and journalism, and even in my life as a parent and friend. So many dinners with so many people who were part of our social life. We all had those circles. When our kids were little and we left them with babysitters, it was to see other adults. Some were dear, and the relationships were central to our well-being. But some were people who were nice to talk to but not emotionally connected with us. It was fine, back then, but these days, time is more precious. It has become a supply-chain issue, like everything else.
With the pandemic, the entire paradigm of an adult social life shifted. We saw no one for over a year, and then, gradually, a few “safe” people, and recently a few more. What hit home is how nurturing and vital the special friends are. What is true, too, is that as you get older, even without a pandemic, some relationships ebb.
Some of us have become less tolerant of the lapses that come with age. As much as I hated being at the children’s table when I was 5, it’s challenging to be at a table of 70-somethings. I can’t sit facing a bright light. My husband can’t hear everything. Someone else can’t get their artificial hip into the chair. Another one needs the heat set at 85.
I learned, too, during these years of crisis, that the quality of a relationship doesn’t always depend on face-to-face meetings. I have held close to my heart a number of people through long emails and telephone conversations that aren’t hit-and-miss but planned and set in the calendar. Some others I see when we can, and when we do, it’s as if no time has passed at all. Instant connection, 5G at least.
By the time I reached 70, I realized I had spent way too much time worrying what others thought of me. That might sound ridiculous from someone who writes a column that sometimes elicits death threats, but those are different. They aren’t personal. I could fret for days about an offhand comment I made to a friend that might possibly have offended. Or I could feel slighted by a remark from someone else. By 75, and not a moment too soon, I am moving beyond that hypersensitivity.
My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Heller, told me I needed to grow an elephant skin, and she was right. It just took me a while.
Another shift that comes in the fullness of our years is our drift toward the wings of the family stage, the fringe, the edge. You get it. We aren’t the main event anymore.
That’s a very good thing. Our kids are officially launched. We have no 40-year-olds living in the basement.
We do have an opportunity now to take on fresh challenges. Maybe all of us elders should go back to our full-time jobs now that no one else wants to work. Or just chill.
Thank you for indulging me. Apparently, I’m having a “where did all the years go” moment.
I am astonished to be 75 years old.
Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.