It finally arrived! Today! After talking about it endlessly the past few weeks, my 78th birthday is here! For better or worse, here I still am and I’m ever so glad about that.
Of course, 78 feels different to each of us. If you’re in reasonably good health and have the independence and wherewithal to do what you most want to do, life at this age can be very, very good. Mine is.
Gratitude has become a way of life, and mine is cascading down today like every glorious waterfall you’ve ever seen.
So much of how we age depends on our perspective. How we look at the good and the not-so-good plays a vital part in what each next birthday means to us. By this decade, I’ve been through so much and seen so much that I’m more able to take life as it comes now. I’ve survived life’s slings and arrows and embraced its greatest joys over and over. And here I am – still here and happy about it!
However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), this time I sense a soft wind blowing that whispers that life now is growing even shorter, and what needs to be done cannot be put off quite as easily any more.
There is a new kind of time crunch now that I’m “nearly 80.” It is quietly becoming more insistent, even though my intrepid mind wants to say, “Don’t panic, woman. You may live to be 90 or more.” It’s not that I’m panicking. But this number has a new, subtle feel to it, and it may take a little more time to know just what that is, I think. It will come in time.
This new age reminds me – again – that it has become too late for some things.
Too late to say, “I love you” one more time to the beloveds who are gone.
Too late to change the mistakes that I made. Especially the Big Ones. The “no-do-overs.”
Too late to swim the English Channel. (Oh, okay, I never wanted to do that anyway.)
Too late to go to the college that I probably should have gone to.
I’ve given up mourning over any of them. I’ve made my peace with them. And I’m realizing today that all of them nonetheless are still being lived out. Just in different ways.
I can still say “I love you” to the beloveds who are still here. There are enough to keep me busy. The last time I talked to my mother, I uncharacteristically neglected to say those three precious words. I was in a hurry. I regretted that for decades. But I never forgot after that to say them to my dad. Now I try not to forget my sisters, my sons and daughters-in-law, my grandson, and my closest friends. The words become even more precious now.
Who needs to hear “I love you” from us this year?
I can still learn the rest of the important things from those Big Mistakes. No, I can’t go back and reverse them, but I can grab hold of the heart that was changed by them and use it to make fewer mistakes. That would be grace.
What can we still undo this year?
The English Channel is still out. You didn’t think I was going to change my mind about that, did you? Or any other large body of water? Well, no, that’s not in the picture, but it is in the same category as “scary things that are a sizeable challenge.”
Like taking a hot air balloon flight.
Well, that came out of nowhere. It’s long been a dream of mine, though, and suddenly it’s become possible this year. I’ve discovered that I have a friend who has friends who have those gigantic, colorful, gravity-defying, Around-the-World-in-80-Days conveyances and she can make connections for me!
I have other friends who think I’m out of my mind, but I also know that flying with the air has to be breathtaking! So I choose some breathtaking this year.
How will we fly with the air this year?
The college that I should have gone to (probably) is the one that I have a long history with: St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Their deep Norwegian roots and a historic music program should have been my lot at age 18. But I chose to go to college at home in Ohio.
However, I did “attend” St. Olaf a year ago when I spent 5 days on campus at a conference on Worship, Music and the Arts. Staying in a dorm room and walking the campus where my grandparents, my parents, aunts and uncles and my two sisters walked, I was overwhelmed by the ghosts of my history. I got to sing under the direction of their world-famous choral conductor and to perform in the magnificent Boe Chapel where I had worshiped with my family as a teenager.
I have been a musician and a pastor, a descendent of my Norwegian ancestors, and I knew a kind of happiness there that comes from gathering together all of that past and giving deep and abiding thanks for such a fortunate life as I have had.
Who has shared the best and worst of our years and knows how they have made us who we are today?
As soon as we’re born, our life grows shorter.
That need not be depressing. When we pay attention to that fact in old age, we see the ebb and flow of our years now gone. We can even appreciate more the time we have left. And get on with it.
Our elderhood gives us the chance to look at the whole picture, to clarify the whole arc of our lives, and to give it our blessing. And then to continue to bless life with all that we have learned, all that we have become and all that we still have a chance to do.
These are the later years. What possibilities are still waiting? Forget how much time is left. Remember to live all of it well. With love and grace and passion, with maybe some moxie thrown in for good measure!
I’m so very okay with that!!!
Happy Birthday to Me indeed!