A few days ago, I went to a dear friend’s 75th birthday party. The invitation said no gifts, but to bring a funny quote on aging. Typical me — I only read as far as the “no gifts” part.
The table was filled with nine interesting, vital, beautiful women, all about the birthday girl’s age. I sat there listening to one funny line after another. One woman read, “Don’t let aging get you down; it’s too hard to get back up.” We all laughed. Another good one was, “You know you’re getting old when you stoop down to tie your shoes, and wonder what else you could do while you’re down there.” A collective uproar. My friend Jill pointed out the irony of our eyes going just when we need them to pluck our chin hairs. We had another good laugh.
Then someone read something Rita Rudner, the comic, had said: “I don’t plan to grow old gracefully. I plan to have face lifts until my ears meet.” We were on the floor.
It was coming around to my turn, and since I hadn’t prepared a thing, and since I was the oldest one there by at least seven years, I thought, I’m gonna talk about actual aging.
But by the time it was time for me to speak, I ended up joining the group and telling a funny story. When the laughter died down and I was about to begin my off-the-cuff lecture, people were looking at their watches, and it felt as if jokes and warm sentiments were all we all wanted to hear. It was a wonderful event, and there was so much love in the room; my talk, whatever it would have been, would have been icing on that already delicious cake.
But before the balloons had gone limp and the French ribbons had been thrown out and the Rogue River Blue Cheese had been wrapped, I would have said: I want to address the elephant (with more wrinkles than me) in the room. My wise sister gave me a gift when she was dying. She said, “I’m ready for the next adventure.” I knew she meant it.
I would have continued by talking about the blue zones, the places all over the world where people live to be over 100 with vitality and optimum health. I figured they all knew the nine lifestyle traits common to those regions, but I would have listed them just to show how sharp (for an older person) I am.
So here they are, as reminders:
- Making movement a natural part of your day
- Knowing your sense of purpose
- Prioritizing stress relief
- Eating until you’re about 80 percent full
- Eating a largely plant-based diet
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
- Connecting to your community
- Putting family (biological or chosen) first
- Choosing social circles that support healthy behaviors
That group was a blue zone unto itself, and I felt blessed to be among them.
I would have told them that I’m trying to do everything on that list except (and I know how to get a laugh) I refuse to do that 80 percent thing. Because I love spaghetti too much, and potstickers, and my son’s food truck french fries, and hot bread and butter. OMG butter, come on. No one fills up on butter.
I would have said, “But it’s not all fun and games, peaches and cream, wine and roses,” and any other cliché I could have come up with.
I would have told them how out of breath I get walking up a flight of stairs, that I only look down on hikes in the woods because I absolutely cannot trip, that I have a severe case of inertia about doing anything physical on a rainy day. I would have said that I’d much rather be standing in line at Zabar’s than sitting shiva at yet another close friend’s memorial.
I would have told them that losing your sister, your best friend, and after two years still bursting into tears in aisle three at Cronig’s when I see her favorite white balsamic vinegar is like putting that vinegar on an open cut; that talking to myself alone in the house is what old people do, repeating a story to a friend who heard it from me one day before. Forgetting someone’s name whom I’ve known my whole life, filling up the calendar with doctor’s appointments, Googling precancerous cells, not being able to have caffeine after four in the afternoon, is a lot of what aging is about.
But I would have said that with all this doo-doo, we do have choices. We can choose where we put our focus.
So here’s the gold where I’m trying to put my focus: I get to pick up my beautiful 12-year-old grandson, and discover that we watch the same stuff on Instagram. I get to play Wordle with my husband of 55 years. I get to swim laps with my bestie every day of the Vineyard summer.
But probably the biggest choice I have, we all have, in fact, and the hardest one so far, is to think of death, mine or anyone’s, as an adventure.
In the meantime, please pass the hot bread and butter.