At 65 I acquired — in addition to my first grandchild — senior discounts, Social Security, and Medicare. My granddaughter was enchanting and the rest very helpful indeed, but I couldn’t help wondering, "Is that it for the good stuff?" Fifteen years later, after making my journey from the far shores of middle age (and face it, boomers, that’s what 65 is) to the age I’m calling Unexpectedly Eighty, I am prepared to say there’s still plenty of good stuff.
En español | I am not prepared, however, to sound like a chorus of "these are a few of my favorite things” by attempting to compose a heartwarming list. But if you’re thinking family and friends and oceans and ice cream and novels and movies and sex, you won’t be far off.
This is not to deny the fact that there is also plenty of bad stuff, like the holes in our brain through which names and dates have dropped, like the end of all hope of getting a good night’s sleep, and like the acquisition of ever-growing numbers of medications and specialists for ailments that we wish we’d never heard of. Increasingly, another beloved friend is falling ill of some awful disease. Increasingly, we’re attending another funeral. And increasingly, our adult children are challenging our competence, with questions like, "Do you even know the difference between an iPod and an iPad?" or "Is there some special reason you parked in the middle of the street and not at the curb?"
Okay, so you do know the difference between an iPod and an iPad. But believe me, boomers, there’s always going to be some New Big Thing that you won’t find all that easy to understand.
But while, in all kinds of ways, moving on through your 60s and your 70s won’t be easy, you can — if you’re paying attention — learn some valuable life lessons that will sweeten your journey and help you enjoy the good stuff.
Here are four of those lessons that I’ve learned, and tried to apply, in these last 15 years:
This moment will not come again.
There once seemed to be countless moments for you to waste or wish away, but now you live with a sharpened sense of finitude, with the inescapable knowledge that there are no longer any moments left to spare. You can use this knowledge, and sometimes you will, to mourn the relentless brevity of life, but you also can use it to notice and embrace and be grateful for whatever beneficence each moment offers.
Get over it.
You may contemplate your past and feel overlooked and underappreciated — you never got what you wanted, expected, deserved. Life, you conclude (so what else is new?) is unfair. Take a little private time to rail against the injustice of it all. And then, because time is short and you have better things to do, move on.
It’s not always about you.
Just because a friend is curt doesn’t mean you’ve done something to offend her. Nor does the fact that your children fail to return your phone calls or e-mails prove that, when the final grades on parenting came in, you had flunked. You can’t imagine how free you will feel when you finally start believing what maybe you’ve never really believed before: that sometimes people don’t behave the way they ought to behave for reasons unrelated to your existence.
You’re never too old to try to fix the world.
You belong to the generation that once marched for peace and freedom. But the world is now a wreck and you now need to do — we all need to do — whatever we are able to do to repair it. Do it for your grandchildren. Do it for everyone’s grandchildren. And do it out of love and respect for the riches — the good stuff — offered to us by the world.