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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Opinion | It’s not ‘terribly strange to be 70’ - The Washington Post

Opinion It’s not so ‘terribly strange to be 70’

"I turned 70 today, a young age for an older person to be, but it is the oldest I have ever been by a long shot. It has been well over six decades since I learned in arithmetic how to carry the one, and the rest has sped by like microfiche.

One big juicy, messy, hard, joyful, quiet life. That’s what my 70 years have bequeathed me.

In my teens, already drinking and drugging, I didn’t expect to see 21, and at 21, out of control, I didn’t expect to see 30. At 30, I had published three books but, as a sober friend put it, was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.

Then at 32, I got clean and sober, the miracle of my life from which all other blessings flow. My son was born three years later. The apple fell close to the tree: My son went off the rails, too. He and his partner had a baby at 19, which had not been in my specific plans for him, but you know the old line: If you want to make God laugh, tell Her your plans.

The baby, soon to get his learner’s permit, turned out to be the gift of a lifetime. My son got clean and sober 13 years ago, and the three of us grew up together. Then after a long search, I met this brilliant, kind writer guy and, three days after I started getting Social Security, I married him. Yesterday, I published my 20th book, called “Somehow.” Today, when I woke up, I was 70. Seventy!

I think that I am only 57, but the paperwork does not back this up. I don’t feel old, because your inside self doesn’t age. When younger people ask me when I graduated from high school and I say 1971, there’s a moment’s pause, as if this is inconceivable and I might as well have said 20 B.C. That’s when I feel my age. But I smile winsomely because, while I would like to have their skin, hearing, vision, memory, balance, stamina and focus, I would not go back even one year.

My older friends and I know a thing or two.

In general, though, I know how little I know. This is a big relief.

I know that my lifelong belief, that to be beyond reproach offers shelter and protection, is a lie. Shelter is an inside job, protection an illusion. We are as vulnerable as kittens. Love fends off the worst of it.

I know now that everyone is screwed up to some degree, and that everyone screws up. Phew. I thought for decades it was just me, that all of you had been issued owner’s manuals in second grade, the day I was home with measles. We are all figuring it out as we go. Aging is grad school.

I know a very little bit about God, or goodness, or good orderly direction. I am a believer, but I don’t trouble myself about ultimate reality, the triune nature of the deity or who shot the Holy Ghost. I say help a lot, and thanks, and are You kidding me??? Have You been drinking again, Friend?

I know about something I will call cloak hope, most obvious to me in the people who swooped in and helped me get sober in 1986, and swooped down again in 2012 for my child. In my case, an elderly sober woman named Ruby saw me in my utter, trembly hopelessness — afraid, smelly and arrogant; she swept in and took me under her wing. She wrapped her cloak around me and was the counternarrative to all I believed at 32, i.e., that I needed to figure things out, especially myself, and who to blame.

I know the beauty of shadows. Shadows show us how life can gleam in contrast. Sunshine might be dancing outside the window, but the wonder is in the variegation, with fat white clouds bunched up on the right casting shadows on the hills and gardens, and brushstrokes of gray clouds on the left and — most magical — the long narrow shawl of fog right across the top of the ridge. The day is saying, Who knows how the weather will morph, but meanwhile so much is possible. And that is life asserting itself.

I know life will assert itself. Knowing this means I have a shot at some measure of pliability, like a willow tree that is maybe having an iffy day.

I know everything is in flux, that all things will turn into other things. I am uncomfortable with this but less so than in younger years. Michael Pollan wrote, “Look into a flower, and what do you see? Into the very heart of nature’s double nature — that is, the contending energies of creation and dissolution, the spiring toward complex form and the tidal pull away from it.” So I don’t sweat feeling a little disoriented some days.

I have grown mostly unafraid of my own death, except late at night when I head to WebMD and learn that my symptoms are probably cancer.

I know and am constantly aware of how much we have all lost and are in danger of losing — I am not going to name names — and am awash with gratitude for lovely, funny things that are still here and still work.

I know how to let go now, mostly, although it is not a lovely Hallmark process, and when well-wishers from my spiritual community exhort me to let go and let God, I want to Taser them. But I know that when I finally tell a best friend of my thistly stuckness, the telling is the beginning of release. You have to learn to let go. Otherwise, you get dragged, or you become George Costanza’s father pounding the table and shouting, “Serenity now!”

I know that people and pets I adore will keep dying, and it will never be okay, and then it will, sort of, mostly. I know the cycle is life, death, new life, and I think this is a bad system, but it is the one currently in place.

I know I will space out and screw up right and left as I head out on this book tour, say things I wish I could take back, forget things, sometimes onstage, and lose things. I just will.

I recently went to Costa Rica, where my husband was giving a spiritual retreat, and I forgot my pants. My pants! And last month, I went to give a talk at a theater two states away and forgot to bring any makeup. I am quite pale, almost light blue in some places — think of someone from “Game of Thrones” with a head cold — and ghostly under bright lights. When I discovered this omission, I was wearing only tinted moisturizer, powder on my nose and light pink lip gloss.

I gave myself an inspiring pep talk on my inner beauty, the light within. And then I had a moment of clarity: I asked the person driving me to the venue to stop at CVS, where I bought blush and a lipstick that was accidentally brighter and glossier than I usually wear. I looked fabulous. Age is just a number when you still know how to shine. And I shone."

Opinion | It’s not ‘terribly strange to be 70’ - The Washington Post

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