Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
How the hell did this happen?
One day at a time for 25,568 days is how.
Deep in my genes — if not my jeans — I’m still 15. I think like an adolescent and sometimes act the same way, which is often fun for me. Not so often for my wife.
I’m thrilled I don’t look 70 – at least to my mind’s eye. But my back, hips and addled brain scream the contrary. I grunt when I stand up and walk the first 10 steps as if my tie is caught in my fly.
Time to accept the reality that my body has a mind of its own?
Ain’t gonna happen. I’m:
- a) Too stubborn (a classic Taurean trait);
- b) Too dumb (a cultivated misbelief system); and
- c) Too deep in denial (see “a)” and “b)”).
Fact is, I’m proud of my diagnosis of PPS (Peter Pan Syndrome). I don’t want to grow up because, well, for me to grow up means it’s time to put me down.
Again, to my wife’s chagrin, I still enjoy being carefree despite the world being trouble-full. I continue to subscribe to the philosophy of that great thinker, Alfred E. Neuman: “What, me worry?”.
Wow! Peter Pan and Alfred E. cohabitating blithely in my head. No wonder I’m so messed up. In truth, they’re just two members of the committee in my cranium – joined by Bo Diddly (my crown prince of Rock ‘n Roll), George Carlin (king of twisted wordplay) and Eugene McCarthy (the gentleman contrarian from my hippie days).
That’s quite a crew to be yammering all at once.
Cutesy intro, Gil. Now what do you really want to say about starting your eighth decade?
Funny, it’s been two months since I wrote that last sentence. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to confront the fast-advancing years. Or, more concisely, maybe I’m scared crap.
And now it’s been two more months since pecking out the previous paragraph…and I still haven’t gotten any younger. What’s occurred to me during these interstitials is that many achievers did some of their best work after stubbing their toes on the septuagenarial threshold.
A quick Internet search uncovered a cavalcade of stars age 70 and beyond. My list is by no means exhaustive or inclusive. Rather, it represents only those oldsters whose names fired across my atrophying synapses.
Let’s start small and end big.
Dearest to my heart is Ed Whitlock, the Running Machine, who — AT AGE 85 — set an age category record last spring by cruising through a half-marathon (13.1 miles) in 1:50:47. That’s an average speed of 8:27 per mile. Ed holds 80 distance-running age-category marks, including a marathon in 2:54:48 at age 73. The only human ever to run a sub-three-hour marathon after age 70, Ed achieved the feat three times, which blows the mind of this old runner, whose best time at 26.2 miles was 3:03 – at age 43!
Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.
–Oliver Wendell Holmes
Keeping in the “old athlete” vein, Sweden’s Oscar Swahn won three Olympic “deer shooting” gold medals at the turn of the 20th century while in his 60s and bagged a silver at age 72 in the 1920 Games (no actual deer were harmed in the competition).
All these dry facts making you hungry for some meatier info?
Let’s look at three food industry moguls who made gravy after age 70. Colonel Harlan Sanders accrued his KFC fortune in his dotage, as did McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc and cookie master, Famous Amos. Then there’s the doyenne of cooking shows, Julia Child, whose delightfully ditzy demeanor was just the recipe for keeping her on television into her 70s.
The wisdom of advancing age, along with entrepreneurial spirit, led to two septuagenarians authoring enduring reference books several centuries ago. Edmund (“According To”) Hoyle wrote A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in 1742 at age 70, and later penned books on rules for other card games and backgammon. Then there was Peter Mark Roget, who compiled his seminal Thesaurus of English Words in 1852 at age 73.
Excellence in the arts transcends age as Anna May Roberston (but you can call her, Grandma) Moses proved when she began her famous painting career at age 78. In 1952, at 92, she wrote her autobiography, My Life’s History. She lived to 101.
Also no slouch was Wallace Stevens, who received a Pulitzer Prize in 1955, at age 76, for his Collected Poems. Reading his whimsical, The Emperor of Ice Cream, in college helped me reconsider the value of poetry.
In the field of acting, it seems no one ever retires. Actors’ onscreen roles stretch from child star, to leading lady/man, to crotchety or wise senior citizen.
For example Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, two “A Listers” in their prime years, won Oscars for their senior moments in On Golden Pond (Hank was 76; Kate 74). And Jessica Tandy was 80 when she won her Academy Award bauble for Driving Miss Daisy.
But George Burns cops the acting geezer prize for me. He was an Oscar winner at 80 for his supporting actor role in The Sunshine Boys and a box-office magnet with his Oh God films till the time of his death at age 100. Oh, and one more ageless wonder to mention here: seven-time Emmy winner Betty White, who remains ubiquitous at 94.
Currently, four “Septuas” are doing star turns in the acclaimed Netflix series, Grace and Frankie (Jane Fonda, 78; Lily Tomlin 76; Martin Sheen 76; Sam Waterson, 75).
And speaking of adding a wrinkle to TV, how about Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who carried the sexual revolution right into our homes when she was in her 70s. This lovably flaky lady talked frankly to us every week in our own bedrooms about all sorts of formerly verboten topics. She continued to teach at Yale into her 80s.
The music industry is another place where getting older is no hindrance. Granted, the voices sound throatier and cracklier, but it’s nostalgia, not harmony, that keeps these troopers in the limelight. Tony Bennett, still warbling at 90, immediately comes to mind. Then there’s a host of Baby Boomer favorites – from McCartney and the Stones to Dylan and Dolly – who are still recording and touring before packed houses.
We dinosaurs also have rocked the fields of social action and politics over the centuries. Let’s begin with that bellwether of liberty himself, Ben Franklin. This jack of all trades was the eldest signer of the Declaration of Independence at age 70, negotiated the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War at 77 and inked his name to the U. S. Constitution at 81.
And how about a few of the world leaders who took the helm at a time when most were well into retirement, including:
- Golda Meir, known as ”The Iron Lady”, who served as Israel’s prime minister from ages 70-76;
- Ronald Reagan, who became president 17 days before his 70th birthday and left office 17 days before his 78th birthday; and
- Nelson Mandela, who outlasted a 29-year prison sentence to lead South Africa away from apartheid, governing from age 75 till just before his 81st
This old-age odyssey – relativity speaking – can’t end without a few sentences about the incomparable Albert Einstein. I won’t hazard to sum up his extraordinary contributions here. But I will note how impressed I was to learn that he joined the NAACP in 1947 at age 68 and, in later correspondence with early civil rights giants, W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson, likened the Jews’ treatment in Germany to that of African Americans in the United States. Until the time of his death at 76, Einstein continued to research and theorize about wormholes, black holes, time travel and the creation of the universe. What a dude!
I’m sure you have your own list of plus-70 achievers. The ones have thought of help me put my 70th birthday in perspective. It’s a means of self-motivation to remind myself that, although life may not begin at 70, there’s still a passel of good years left, as long as I choose to keep on keepin’ on.
A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.