That “Significant” Birthday

Too many cliches apply to the times when we turn certain ages.  I can remember, for example, becoming sixty and wondering how I had arrived there so fast.  As a matter of fact, I can’t remember any other birthday being as traumatic for me.  I guess I was simply too busy to pay much attention to forty and fifty; but sixty and seventy arrived with a gravity I hadn’t expected. Two very potent cliches applied in both circumstances.  The first was that getting to these decade milestones was better than not getting to them.  The second was that these marker points were signaling how much nearer I was to my final marker and that whatever I wanted to do with my life in the future, I had better get about doing it.  I didn’t and don’t have endless amounts of time left.

People report that sixty is the new fifty and seventy is the new sixty. On the other hand, each of us has an internal clock ruled by our genetic makeup.  We can look at how long our folks lived and probably add five or so years to that age and have a fairly good idea of how much time we actually do have left.  Therein the line from the film, Shawshank Redemption, comes into play: We ought to “get busy living or get busy dying,” but the choice of how we are going to spend these final years is very much ours.  Either we can, like Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler, entertain ourselves with constant thoughts of our own demise, or we can choose not to go there and make a concerted effort not to allow ourselves to wallow in such depressing and demoralizing thoughts.  To this I would add that for those who go into a tail spin and cannot seem to drag themselves out of this funk, there are pharmaceutical products which certainly can help and folks who are trained to diagnose and then prescribe for such times and conditions.

Pop psychology long ago proclaimed and disseminated the concept of the ‘Midlife Crisis.”  What it will soon discover if it hasn’t already is that there is a ‘later life crisis’ that involves people who, all of a sudden, realize that they have arrived at an age that society considers “old.”  Sometimes this is a function of former school mates, friends and relatives dying.  Sometimes it is the death of an elderly parent or other relative which leaves us with the understanding that, now that they are gone, our turn is next.

I have already suggested one way of dealing with our “significant, milestone birthdays.”  I am not so certain that it is worth listing what, by now, we who are up in years ought to have realized and discerned.  Staying busy and having some definite goals and things to which to look forward make up some of that list.  Rabbis and other clergy have been touting an attitude of gratitude rather than one of moroseness.   Counting one’s blessings is a way of staying positive, although attempting to maintain such an attitude while we are physically becoming more and more challenged isn’t so easy.  Along that line another cliche is applicable:  “use it or lose it” is apropos.  Having a regular regimen of physical activity, be it running, rapid walking, bicycling, playing some sport, swimming—something that is aerobic and gets the heart rate up is a great antidote to what I would call the despair of physical aging.  While getting into gym clothes every time we have an aberrant thought about our bodies isn’t practical, regular exercise assures us that we can still perform and that our bodies aren’t as useless as we sometimes think or feel they are.  Yoga, pilates, physical therapy and the occasional Advil, Aleve or other pain reliever certainly keep one’s body more limber.  Exercise is an important offset to the ravages of aging.

Of course, there is diet…but I am not so much trying to review the literature on aging as I am advocating the Shawshank prescription of picking ourselves up, if need be, and giving ourselves a swift kick in the butt and get on with living.

I have a dear friend who, when I described my trying to imagine dying and all the emotions that exercise brought with it that were scaring me and bringing me down, asked why I allowed myself to engage in such  thinking?  What earthly good was it doing me?  She stopped me in my tracks.  Since then, I have not “gone there.”  There’s no sense in it. It gets me nowhere. Better to move to some other thought and/or get back on track with whatever else I might be doing.

It stands repeating that some day we are all going to face our mortality and our deaths in one way or another.  I see no sense in dwelling on that.  For sure, the fellow I see in the mirror has garnered some age and I do wonder how I did get here so fast; but I know that there is little sense in either mourning the years that are now past or trying to relive them.  It’s time to move on and make the best of what’s left.  And that thought in itself is a blessing.


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