A few months ago, Dr. Eddy, my new primary care physician, asked me my age, and I told her I was 90. She checked my chart and then looked at me thoughtfully;
“You’re 89.” She said. “Why do you keep saying you are 90?”
I thought about it for just a minute…I had indeed been saying I was 90 for about six months before actually reaching that advanced age. But why?
I’d lied about my age before, but not usually with the intent of being older than I actually was.
“I think,” I said, “I think it’s because 89 has no legs. It isn’t anything special. But 90? Ninety is a destination.”
I thought that sounded really deep. I hoped she was impressed because I certainly was.
I thought about that later, on my way home from her office. Why would I be hurrying toward 90? Well, the first thing is, it took me 90 years. That’s not really a hurry when you think about it. But there was still truth in what I said. Ninety WAS and IS a destination.
It’s a time, I believe, when we have arrived at who we’ve been becoming forever. We have taken advice from many sources and ignored other advice at our peril. We have experienced births and deaths and love and sometimes hate. If we’re very, very lucky, we have been loved by some wonderful people…beginning, of course with Mother and Father. But then, they pretty much HAD to love us.
On the other hand we have made friends, some who have come and gone on, some who have stayed with us, physically or mentally, through the ages. And every one of them has influenced who we are now….even if only fleetingly.
I’ve had a pretty fine life. I didn’t think too much a lot of it while I was living it, but that’s just because I wasn’t seeing that big picture everyone talks about…I was looking through a small lens at tiny little events and concentrating too much on the part that wasn’t going according to MY plan. It didn’t occur to me that the world had no plan to arrange itself for my pleasure.
I was an average student. Average pretty, unless you asked my Mother who saw me as beautiful and a Father who saw me as clever and talented. Not average at all. I believed them. Which helped a lot.
I turned out to be amusing. I tell stories well. Always have, and with luck will die still having a good punch line at the ready.
I write well too. I thought I’d get that out of the way so you don’t have to wonder about it. It is a wonderful gift. I was able to make a comfortable living writing. Which made me luckier than a whole lot of people because I loved my work.
Only twice in my life did I ever have to take a job where I had to show up at an office at a certain time and stay until the bell rang and I was set free.
The first time was when I worked at a financial company where, for some reason they hired me as an “executive assistant” (read secretary.)
Now, as one of the world’s least organized people, getting the files of four dedicated executives into some order was a major challenge. But I developed this wonderful, color-coded system which made my four executive bosses insanely happy. They even got to choose their own colors! If one man loved green and another yellow…then each got his own favorite.
The problem, and the thing that lead me to leave the office after about a year, was that I was never quite sure where anything was and I felt sure that at some time, they would realize that.
The other misadventure took me into the land of “office work” at a large manufacturing company where I worked on the newspaper for an editor who described himself as neither a reader nor a writer. I decided not to pursue that line to its illogical conclusion.
I had been free lancing for the company for nine years when they decided they would use only full time employees and I was a consultant. The option was mine. Work for them full time or find another client. I joined the ranks.
This time, however, one of the execs noticed that I had a strange attitude toward full time work. He took me aside after about three months and asked me, gently, but insistently if I didn’t know anything about office politics. I assured him I did not and had no intention of learning about it. I was invited to look elsewhere very shortly after that. However, I was then 72 so retiring didn’t seem like a bad idea.
One thing I learned from that experience that has stuck with me for the rest of my life, was how fortunate I was to enjoy my work. Office politics or not, I loved to write and I got to do that every day – and got paid really well. The people I worked with, loved the fact that they HAD jobs, but they weren’t happy with the work. I found that very sad and it is one of the experiences that colored who I became.
See, that’s the thing about 90. At 72, I was still becoming someone. Now I believe, I am who I am and that’s all that I am.
I am told that with age comes wisdom, and that, in fact, seems to me to be true. After all, you would have to be really stupid to live 90 years and not learn a thing or three.
I have learned that the people I love do not have to agree with me on much of anything. It’s nice when the important things are shared, but it isn’t essential to the friendship. What IS essential is that you respect the opinion of others and their right to have those opinions, no matter how wrong you may find them. Name calling and accusations don’t help anything.
I believe I have learned when to give advice and when to withhold it…not matter how wise and wonderful you find yourself, the smartest thing you can learn I find, is that the time to give advice is when it is asked for…otherwise, hold your tongue. (Not literally, of course.)
I think one of the wisest things I learned recently is something that I should have known all along. When someone says something rather mean or petty to you, you must stop and realize that It isn’t about you. It’s about THEM. There is something in their lives that makes lashing out necessary to them. Maybe they need to feel superior and know they have very little to build on. Maybe someone has recently hurt them and they are hurting you to relieve the pressure they feel. If you can master that one bit of wisdom you will save yourself a lot of grief.
It was a relief to find out that I am fairly well satisfied with what I have done with my life. Mistakes…of course, lots. But like everything that one does along the way, the mistakes had something to teach me too. Would I change a lot if I got a do-over? No, not really. Even the parts I didn’t like were helpful. And above all, they got me to this place and I am happy with the journey.
So that’s my short story of a long life. Now it’s your turn. If you’d like to have a cup of coffee, stop by, I’m always willing – make that eager – to chat.
I loved this piece, Betty. I find it so amusing to me personally, because there is a part of me that wants to know if the proverbial you, will still love me when I’m 64, which is only about ten weeks away. So Betty, of course I still love you and will until I take my last breath, but tell me, will you still love me when I’m 64? Ah Betty, pass that cup of coffee. I do believe we could sip and chat for hours.
I love you, woman!
Just give me a call…I’ll meet you half way. Betty
I never understand people who dread their birthdays or getting older. I, too, tend to “up” my age because I don’t feel like I am the number that is put on me..plus 54 doesn’t sound as good as 55. I also tend to think that people who embrace their age don’t let it define them. Thus living their lives more and not worrying about “Oh I can’t do that or wear that or try that because I’m of such and such an age.”
So live that 90 and show all those who fear getting older that there are stories yet to live and tell and Wow, I bet 100 years old will be awesome to say!
Thanks for sharing your story!
Betty – What a delightful story. After reading this and a couple of your other most recent posts, I can see that you have a love for life that many people must envy. I see in your writing memories of a life lived with zest and love. Keep up the wonderful work. I’m “Bobill Weaver” on Face-Book and I appreciate your comments on my photographs. Better watch out; even though I’m not the hound of heaven, I am only one decade behind you