Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Today marks my seventy-and-a-halfth birthday. 

I’ve started counting my birthdays like little kids do, but for the opposite reason. 

LITTLE KID:  “I’m not three.  I’m three-and-a-half!”

ME:  “I’m not seventy-one.  I’m seventy-and-a-half!”

My half-birthday harkened me back to my actual birthday, which is traditionally a milestone birthday.  Biblically, that’s all they give you – “Three score and ten.”  But, you know, they got the sun-revolving-around-the-earth thing wrong.  Hopefully, they are “off” on this too.

Let me not gild the issue here.  Getting older brings you closer to dead.  Of course, that’s the “Down” side.  There is an “‘Up’ side of old” as well.  I know that because there is an “Up” side to everything.  As of this writing, however, I have not yet discovered what the “‘Up’ side of old” is.  I will keep you posted when I find out.

Suffice it to say, I was apprehensive about my seventieth birthday.  To be honest, I’ve been apprehensive about each passing birthday since I was thirty-five.  But back then I have the sense I was just practicing.  After sixty, I believe it got real.

For some time, I have recognized an identifiable trajectory concerning my birthday.  About a month before it, I am predictably out of sorts.  Then, when the day actually arrives, I feel like “King For A Day.”

Take my seventieth, for example.

During my preparatory “Funk Month”, I made it clear that no extraordinary measures be taken to celebrate my birthday.  I had one dominating wish for marking the occasion:

“No effort.”

By which I did not mean not burdening others with lavish preparations for my birthday. 

I meant “No effort” by me.
If my family truly loved me, I explained, they would not require me to be sociable on my birthday.  Fortunately, they respected my wishes.  Sparing me having to respond to a lot of lame “Getting old” jokes that are in fact true, and “Seventy’s not old” reassurances that are not.

I had plans for my birthday.  Barring a weekend earlier backyard “lunch-and-cake” party with the immediate family, they were all of a solitary nature.

Before my birthday, my objective was to retain my septennial milestone “in-house.”  I had no interest in “spreading the word”.  The day would come; the day would go.  Then, it would be somebody else’s birthday.

My actual birthday arrives. 

I begin my private celebration exactly as I imagined it, picking up coffee at a cozy nearby breakfast place called Cora’s, and taking a solo meditative walk along the beach.  I walk into Cora’s, and I hear myself say:

“A small coffee to go, please.  Today’s my birthday.”

Cora’s immediately comes to life with my proclamation.  Random customers shout congratulations.  A counterman offers a complimentary pastry. 

I could not believe it.  Here I was, wishing to proceed unceremoniously into my eighth decade, and suddenly, I’m announcing to strangers “It’s my birthday!”

And not just that once.  It happened again at lunch.  I have selected Café Gratitude, a place that deserves an entire blog post of its own.  I am seated at a table, the waitress comes over with water, and I tell her it’s my birthday.  (For which I later receive a scoop of artificial ice cream with a candle.)

My behavior was astonishing to me.  When had I mutated from “Birthday Reticent” to “Birthday Blabbermouth”?
As it turned out, this was not the most surprising revelation of my birthday.

Two other items on my assiduously prepared itinerary involved enjoying the extremely rare (for me) treats of a chocolate milkshake and a quality cigar.

The revelation occurred when I realized that, when it came time to pull the trigger, I unexpectedly wanted neither of those things.

Instead of the chocolate milkshake, I contentedly ordered an “I Am Blissful” blueberry antioxidant smoothie (Café Gratitude labels every item on their menu “I Am Something.”)  And I had no interest in the cigar. 

It was weird.  I had thought carefully about how I wanted to celebrate my birthday, and that plan of personal pampering included a chocolate milkshake and a cigar.  At the “Moment of Truth”, however, it became “I Am Blissful” and no cigar.

The realization occurred to me that, every once in a while, you have to go into your brain and perform some assiduous housecleaning, jettisoning the things you used to treasure – and mistakenly believe you still do – and replacing them with your current interests and desires.

A chocolate milkshake is still a treat.  But at some point, although my brain had not registered the conversion, “I Am Blissful” became a better treat.  And quality cigars, which had embellished many a milestone in my past, I kept thinking I still wanted one long after determining that I didn’t.

I was apparently evolving.  Without my knowledge or awareness.  It was something I realized on my seventieth birthday. 

It appears that I need to “update my files”, stop wanting – out of habit – things I used to want but that have at some point lost their allure. 

This insight could fall under the category “The Wisdom of Age.”

Or if it’s wrong, under “There’s no fool like an old fool.”

I hope it’s the former.  I could use some ammunition for “The ‘Up’ side of old.”  


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I spent the month before I turned 60 on a giddy high. Because: when you live in London, after 60 you qualify for FREE TRANSPORT! Given that London has a fantastic array of buses, trains, tubes, and even boats, all of which add up to be rather expensive, this is a fantastic deal.

On the day itself I discovered the awful truth: every time you use the card it reminds you you're over 60 and reversal is not an option.

Here's something to make you feel younger, however. Edith Lank's blog, "86 and Holding": http://86andholding.blogspot.co.uk/


JED said...

When I was turning 35, I started saying that I still had over half my life to live so it wasn't so bad. For as long back as I could remember, for everything that I had done, for every person that I had met, I had at least that much more ahead of me. It seemed to make it seem so far off in the future. Every year I was able to say the same thing assuming that medical science and health care had advanced enough in the previous year to make it true. I didn't have any big medical issues to worry about and things seemed to be going along well.

But next February, I'll be turning 65 and I think it will be stretching it a bit to say my life is only half over. In reality it hasn't been true for over 20 years but I kept the hope up but there has to be an end to that. Then I realized that as I'm getting older and more forgetful, it's still possible that for as much as I can remember, I have that many things ahead of me. It's just not that many things anymore.

Happy 70.5, Earl. I believe your blog is getting better and better. Keep up the good work.

Jim Dodd

Canda said...

Thanks for the blog tip, Wendy. Edith Lank does not post every day, but it's nice to see someone still intellectually curious at that age.

River said...

There is at least one positive regarding the Upside of Old.