“We have four times as many people on the planet today compared to a century ago. It’s not because humans are having more children. It’s because we’re living longer…”
“One strange thing about the story of global life expectancy is how steady the number was for almost the entirety of human history. Until the middle of the 18th century, the figure appears to have rarely exceeded a ceiling of about 35 years…”
“We’ve doubled lifespan in the past century.”New York Times, “How Humanity Gave Itself an Extra Life.”
At 2:35 am on May 17th, my two alarms sounded in the dark, and I was immediately wide awake. I had been waiting for a year to meet this new day. The day when I would have lived a full 80 years. As the numbers popped up at 2:37, I sang “Happy Birthday to me!” into my barely visible room and laughed out loud!
Then I gave thanks, copious thanks for those who have loved me and let me love them. And for the gifts that I was given at my birth to enjoy and employ out into the world.
I had made it! I was no longer “going to be 80.” I was now a full-fledged octogenarian! For real!
I don’t feel at all crabby about being 80; I am passionately grateful! I’ve been smiling a lot. As in really a lot.
Yes, my toes are numb from chemo. Yes, my joints speak to me after I’ve been sitting for a bit and certainly when I first get up in the morning. But it doesn’t last long.
Yes, I have well-controlled Type 2 diabetes. Yes, I have pills to control my inherited high blood pressure and cholesterol. Yes, I have hearing aids that have been an endlessly annoying problem with masks and that still require me to use captions for tv watching.
But I also have a clear and active mind, except sometimes for names and, occasionally, simple words like cucumber and lobby.
I have survived both cancer and its recovery (two distinctly different challenges). I am back walking with my Nordic walking poles, farther than I thought I could yet. I am able to live independently.
I am writing. I am still doing Facebook Live Sunday evening devotions for my church, excited by the challenges and frustrated by the gremlin of slow internet speed!
I am grateful. So, so grateful for what I have and for who I am becoming because of my old age.
As I became “really 80” on that night, I found myself acutely aware. In the darkness, I could sense that every Martha that I’ve been over these many years was there with me and cheering me on. And that I have come to love them all, to give them my sympathy, my gratitude and my unfettered love and forgiveness. We were a lovely little crowd there, in the dark.
I still find myself, a week later, with more grace and love for each of them than I’ve ever had.
As I turned 80 – wide awake in my bed at 2:37 that morning – my serious but playful child who ran the neighborhood was by my side, living freely and with joy. Sure of herself. Belonging.
I was the 16-year-old adolescent whose parents threw her a Sweet 16 surprise birthday party. The girls that I most wanted to fit in with were all there. But I had already become the teenager who never felt that I fit in anywhere, as much as I longed to. Yet, they were there. And they’re still here, all of us 80 in this year! And Zooming!
I was 21 years old and able to vote. Engaged to the campus hero. But not feeling worthy of his love. I would become a young wife and mother who had so very much to learn!
I was 30 and 50 and 70 – the ages I most hated becoming. Because I was closer and closer to being “old.”
I was 40 and 60, the decades that I loved and where I was to be the most creative yet.
All that I have been is still a part of me. And now, each Martha is having her story rewritten, with kindness and with grace. I’m so glad that I’ve had the time to do that. I would hope for that for all of us.
At 80, I know that time grows relatively short. That is palpable. But I still have so much that I can do. That I intend to do. I can’t wait to discover what is yet unfinished, what I just may still have time to finish.
I am hungry for the future. I am reading and watching everything I can get my hands on so that I might expand the neighborhood of my creative spirit. Tomorrow is bright. It still invites me into the wondrous unknown.
And I’m very okay with that.