Saturday, April 1, 2023

                                                 On Turning Seventy-Five

In the early weeks of January, on a gray and dreary morning in the midst of the mildest winter in years, I turned seventy-five. I remember when that used to sound old. Now it seems just another milestone in a long life of moments worth noting. Along the way, among the restive rhythms of the years I’ve come to recognize that time drives all. We can lament it, rail against it, or embrace it with grace, but we cannot escape the cold resolute torrents of time, as relentless as the waves of the sea. 

I’ve now reached a point where, in the words of Willie Nelson, I’m “well past my halfway in time,” but, as Willie continues, “I still have a lot on my mind.” Anyone over fifty will tell you that the years pass quickly. Yet after seventy, while the nights often trudge along hour by hour, the days are swifter still and the years somehow accumulate faster than most of us can keep up—perhaps because there’s now so much more time to keep track of in the long sweep of memory.

On some mornings when we wake in the fog of sleep, daylight seeping through the blinds, we forget about time and age and decline. Then we turn to get out of bed and that painful shoulder or creaky back or throbbing hip reminds us of the years that have taken their toll. I have far more wrinkles and age spots than ever before. I am slower and achier and much more tired than I used to be. But through the wonders of modern medicine, I’m able to manage my physical ailments, and I realize what a gift the Lord has bestowed on me through these seventy-five years. Every day that I am upright is a blessing in itself. Every day, indeed, is a gift. 

While the years have been kind to me, life also, of course, has had its travails, and I have come along the way to know one of the eternal truths: that life is both an embrace and a letting go. What inestimable love and joy, and yet what loss, I have known through all these years. In the lives and eventual deaths of my grandparents, then my parents, relatives, a sister, and countless friends, I have felt both the boundless exhilaration of love and the deep searing anguish of grief. But in the births of our sons and then of their own children I have seen the depths of that love renewed again across the span of the generations.   

Over the years, while we were busy living our lives, one by one our parents’ generation passed on and then one day we suddenly found that we were the older folks, the senior citizens, the elders. As the seasons inevitably tick on, our time, in turn, will come and we too will take our place in the great scheme of things—but not too soon, I hope, not too soon.

I take some solace at seventy-five in these lines from Tennyson’s Ulysses:

                                           Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;                                                                             Death closes all: but something ere the end,                                                                   Some work of noble note may yet be done . . . .

And as I read these words now I am heartened by the speaker’s wisdom and his grit. There’s a dignity to these lines, a resolve to push on despite the constraints of age and time, to contribute what we still can, to make a difference yet.

The sun is setting as I write this, the twilight, fiery red and tinged with streaks of wispy blue. I look away, but when I look back again the red tint is fading fast, the blue now smudged to gray as the day wanes toward the deepening darkness. Time drives all.  But tomorrow is to be a fine day.