Yes, I’ve done it, I’m made it to 75. Just think, if I’d only made it to 70, I would have left this Earth still naively convinced that the world really was becoming a kinder, more inclusive place. That illusion has certainly been smashed to smithereens in the past 5 years. The reality that humans really are a work in progress, at best excruciatingly slow progress, has become all too real.
It never crossed my mind to post about my own birthday until a few weeks ago, when an article appeared in my news feed reporting on Debra Ferrell, a woman who, when unable to celebrate her 53rd birthday with family because of the pandemic, decided to carry out 53 acts of kindness to strangers instead. That had me sit up and take notice. I hadn’t thought anything about my birthday until then, but suddenly I thought, “Wait a minute, I have a milestone birthday coming up, I could do something special for others, too.” But then I saw how much advanced planning that had taken on her part and came to realize that it couldn’t work for me. Not in two weeks. I couldn’t reach out to 75 strangers and satisfy their wants or needs in the middle of tightening COVID restrictions that quickly. Maybe I can come up with a year-long kindness project for this year of being 75 instead.
In the meantime, I thought maybe I could come up with a list of 75 things I am grateful for. I’ve had an uncommonly fortunate life, and I was pretty sure I could come up with such a list, but once I started I realized that it would be awfully long, as well as awfully boring to anyone but me. However, a few thoughts about gratitude in aging came to me that might be of interest. Perhaps my musings will give you pause to think about how what’s most important to you might change in your “later years”. Or to put it another way, at some point in your journey will the importance of the items on your bucket list give way to the quality of your relationships with the special people in your life?
I have a somewhat different approach to aging than many, I think probably because both my parents died in their 50s. As a result, somewhat irrationally I guess, I never expected to live this long, it just happened. Never ceases to amaze me. I just enjoy all this extra time I’ve been given. 🙂
Since I got on this gratitude kick a few weeks ago I’ve been thinking about what I’m grateful for that my parents truly missed by having their lives end far too soon.
I’ve done a LOT of amazing traveling that my parents never got to do, and I’ve gotten much joy in witnessing the astounding variety of landscapes, wildlife, and cultures the world has to offer. But no matter how wonderful all those experiences were – and they were, I don’t think that’s something my parents necessarily truly missed. Not at the end of the “day”, not in the overall scheme of things.
I’ve had all that extra time to share ordinary, everyday experiences with friends, as well as extraordinary ones – and to make new friends along the way. But my parents were good at enjoying the time they spent with friends and I don’t think more of that is something that they really missed. They made the most of those opportunities when they had them and fully appreciated the strength of their bonds of friendship.
I would have been sorry to have missed some of the very special opportunities I had in my career to make a difference at my university, much of which happened at an age past my parents’ final ages, but then again, I wouldn’t have known the difference, and my parents both were fortunate in that they enjoyed their work and felt well respected in their workplaces throughout their careers.
I would have been very sorry to have missed several years of long distance running with my two best friends, my husband and my brother. And we were decidedly older than my parents got to be when we began that pursuit. Starting and completing those 10Ks, half marathons, and marathons together were as special as it gets. For me, that was a joy that I’m grateful I didn’t miss. However, I’m pretty sure my parents would have thought that was something to miss at any cost!
But … and here’s where it becomes clear to me what’s really important, my father never got to meet my husband or walk me down the aisle. That’s something he missed.
He never got to see any of us married or meet our spouses. My Mom never got to see my younger brother get married. That is something they missed.
My Dad never got to know that he was a grandfather or to know any of his precious 9 grandchildren. My Mom just barely got to meet her first two grandchildren – our kids. To me the tragedy has always been that their grandchildren never had a chance to know these two special people, but not having the joy of knowing their grandchildren is something they truly missed.
My father – and for the most part my mother – never got the chance to watch their kids become responsible, independent adults, and then supportive spouses and parents. That is something they missed. For me, that has been a true joy.
They never got the chance to enjoy being empty-nesters, just the two of them together again, with their kids off to university and then establishing their own lives. That is something they missed. And, yes, that’s a joy as well.
And they never got the chance to be retired together, having the time to choose what you’re going to do and not do, and eventually reaching the stage that Lionel Hardcastle charmingly described as “doing very little, slowly.” If you get to that stage and are still able to share it with the person you love, you are very lucky indeed.
So, from where I stand at this advanced milestone age, I realize how lucky I have been to be able to experience these defining moments in life that my parents missed, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
Of course, if I could start running again that would be great, too!