I turn 70 in March. I might feel younger than my parents looked and felt at 70. Thanks to two new hips, I will walk without that limp my Dad sported at 70. And due to some genetic fluke, I won’t have a head of gray hair like my mom at 70. What will I have? What will I want to have?
A question we answered as high school seniors for our 1967 yearbook was: “Ambition?”
I wrote words from my then favorite song, “to reach the unreachable star.”
What was I thinking? And will I have reached the unreachable by mid-March? Will I have touched that star? I didn’t even know what shiny brilliance meant. Toward what would I be ambitioning? At 18, I had long ago abandoned my girlhood wish for a calling as a nun. Once I learned of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, my middle school brain rejected that vocation. I then entertained striving to be a dentist since my Dad was an oral surgeon and he shone bright for me. But I would need other vows for dentistry–math, physics, organic chemistry. Nope.
Will I ever attain the unattainable? And will wanting to stretch beyond the stretchable continue to live with so much energy, so much intensity, in me? I mean, Buddhists often take an oath, “Beings are numberless. I vow to save them all.” That’s a reach.
Fifty-two years after high school graduation, I’ve noticed much less reaching out. Unlike my earlier outward and upward shooting for stars,–or holiness or professional aspirations — I do things like care for people near me–husband, mom, kids, grandkids, a small number of other people’s children, some cherished friends and, oh, myself. The inner cheerleader in me has quieted a bit, the one with all that effervescence also noted under my yearbook photo.
My questions at 70 are more like, “how do I keep my feet on solid ground? How do I reach into what’s here, on who I am, not who I hope to be one day? How will any of us live fully in the short life we have while we stand, as my dad would say, “on the right side of the grass?”
I won’t love my diminishments , an achy back and changes in how I look: my white hairs here and there, wrinkles . But as I age, I want to like what’s not wrong, what’s working, what’s right: my curious mind, still eager to learn; a body that can dance; a heart willing to grow; spirit enough to laugh with grandchildren. As the lyrics from my Man of La Manchasong say, “this is my quest.”
Maybe what’s unreachable is here. Maybe at 70 we won’t have to backbend toward what no longer exists in our lives (i.e., I was a balance beam champ in gymnastics). Nor will it mean forward leaning into some unworkable future.
Maybe the reach is inward, to love, to live and to feel into 70 as a place to land, to inhabit fully. Here are lines from Weathering,poet Fleur Adcock’s compassionate ode to the space of getting old: “Now that I am in love with a place that doesn’t care how I look, or if I am happy, happy is how I look and that’s all ….”
Not by dreaming impossible dreams, rather by claiming here-and-now happiness, our own glow is reachable at any age.