Turning 70

I feel my bravado weakening.

Last night, lying in bed with my husband, I told him that unless I killed myself in the next 45 minutes I was going to become a 70-year woman at midnight. And then I went to sleep.

This morning he asked me if all the reflection about my birthday was over. And it occurred to me that all my writing and posting about turning 70 had started to become narcissistic. After all, people get older all the time. People turn 70 all the time. They don’t feel compelled to pull their friends and relatives through endless pep talks and gratitude prayers which is sort of what I’ve done. But, of course, I realize I was the real audience.

Turning 70 seems preposterous to me. It is such a forbidding, large number, an unbelievable number applied to me although I feel I have lived plenty long. I’m not one of those who thinks her life has sped by. Much of it plodded by and, at times, stood still, the times of misery in particular seemed endless and timeless. Big events, catastrophic things, like assassinations and wars, hang on me like a vintage scarf. Watching a documentary about John Kennedy’s funeral the other night made me want to cover my eyes, my feelings about it so close to the surface even after fifty-five years. And so I go places with all these old things hanging on me, the bad events but also the music and the things I did when I was young and I look like an old woman but I am really a thousand scarves.

The whole thing makes me want to cry but it doesn’t make me sad.

I watched the news reports of Barbara Bush’s death. Film clips of her as a young woman, a mom, a First Lady. The most recent clips are of her in a walker; she seems smaller, reduced from her robust self, and the commentator notes that she was on oxygen in her last years. My favorite picture of her shows the deep wrinkles in her tanned face, she is smiling like she just came in from a walk on the bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. She reminds me of a favorite aunt, the one always dressed to the nines who smoked Chesterfields and drank what I always considered to be ‘man-drinks.’ You wouldn’t catch my aunt drinking a glass of wine, she’d kick off her heels, lean against the kitchen counter, and have a Scotch on the rocks. I bet Barbara Bush was like my aunt. I don’t think either of them was afraid of what would come next.

When my daughter and I did a long distance charity walk in a very hilly city, I quickly learned to keep my eyes focused on the steps right in front of me. Nothing was gained by looking up and seeing the hill we faced; it was better not to know how big it was or how long it would take. Just appreciate the steps of the people in front of you, I’d tell myself. Watch your own strong legs take the next step and then the next. Don’t let the dread of the hill make you weak. That makes a lot of sense to me.

“I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” — Joan Didion