Eighty is a big number. He keeps saying that he feels like 40. At forty he had already given up his special feat of jumping up on kitchen counters from a stand-still position. At forty he had already been diagnosed with a heart condition, an ailment making any 40 year old feel old beyond their years, but one that didn’t slow him down. Today, at 80, he doesn’t feel like he thought he would at 80. He feels like 40.
So what does it mean to be 80?
He’s no Einstein, but his mind is sharp. He doesn’t stick his tongue out at the world, but friends tend to think he is funny--- when he remembers the punch line of the joke!
Eighty is clearly an age that the media, and our culture in general, tend to describe as being part of the elderly population. He definitely wouldn’t call himself elderly. And I would tend to agree.
I read the obituaries regularly, especially the Sunday New York Times stories of the luminaries who recently died. So many die at an age hovering around 80. The portrayals talk about the deceased as having lived a long and good life. So 80 years could be enough. Should it be good enough?
On the other hand, I hear about outstanding people who are still achieving grand accomplishments. So many people are volunteering to help others in need, writing books or composing music, running for office or managing big and small companies. Age doesn’t stop them. They may be in their 80’s or even in their 90’s. Their good life is still running strong.
Yet, I know of people in nursing homes and assisted living centers, people living at home but requiring significant assistance. These people may be in their 90’s, but they could be 80 or even younger. They are not out in the world accomplishing. Instead, they are dependent, leaning on others to make life manageable. What a range – from CEO to nursing home—at this age of 80.
The magic number
I always thought that there was a magic number that meant “old”. My grandmother died at 87 and my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at 87. Eighty-seven was the end of the road in my thinking. Eighty is just around the corner from that number. Eighty was the age that, to me, meant old.
Alan, my husband, defies that notion-- I am delighted to report. He isn’t on his way to the grave or to an assisted living institution. Instead, he is hanging pictures, walking the dog, running his business and taking out the garbage. He is living a full life. Not as an "old" person, but a person of “a certain” age. Yes, he may get a bit more tired more quickly than he used to, but he also perks back up just as quickly. He doesn’t jump up on counters like he used to, but he hasn’t done that in years.
Age is just a number. I know it is trite to say that “you are as young as you feel”, but who ever coined that phrase shared an important piece of wisdom. Some are unfortunate and have been ravaged or touched by disability or disease at this age. Alan is blessed; his heart disease is something he has learned to live with. Some have been hit by cars or devastated by cancer, and have already died. Alan is lucky here, also. He is alive and well, and kicking at the world.
Some might ask- is it luck or lifestyle? Has he been blessed with the gift to enjoy life at this ripe age of 80, or did he create this opportunity? As both a psychologist, and his wife who has an even closer look at his age and stage, I see that both are true. He has been given some gifts, blessings that he has embraced to design a life at 80 that is his alone, and his to enjoy.
The gift of age
What I have seen as Alan has inched closer to 80 is an increase in his appreciation of the small things in life. More than ever, he notices the sunsets, the kind words of others and the playful tugs of our dog. After all these years, knowing how privileged he is to be alive and well, he appreciates that there is so much around him that surrounds him with love, brings him joy, and makes life worth living.
It’s a good thing to reach 80, a joyful time, a milestone to be celebrated. More than anything, 80 allows us to pause and take stock of all the good, beautiful and delightful features that fill our world. We could have stopped and been appreciative of the world around us at 50 or 70, but we were too caught up by the urgency that was right in front of us to take that step back. That urgency is gone.
Alan has always admired Einstein. Today I see Alan and Albert, laughing together.
Thank you Alan, for turning 80 and giving me the opportunity to see life through a new lens. May your years continue to be filled with laughter, health, joy and love—and maybe even some playful defiance!