FIVE YEARS AGO, as I was about to turn 65, I posted an item on this blog called “54 Random Thoughts on the Eve of My Entering Geezerhood.” Here’s an additional 14 thoughts as I turn 70.
1. If one more person utters the words, “the Big One,” or “The Big Seven-Oh,” I swear to the gods that I’ll vote for Donald Trump in November.
2. The French have it right. Instead of saying 70, they say sixty-ten (soixante-dix). Seventy-one is sixty-eleven, and so on, until you get to 80, and then it’s four twenties (quatre-vingts). Ninety is four-twenties-ten. But they’re fooling themselves, I guess, because eventually they reach 100 and 100 is … well, 100, plain and stark. And old. Ancient.
3. I still think of myself as a young man. Maybe when I turn 80 I’ll feel like an old man. The trouble is I don’t really have any concept as to how I’m supposed to feel. There are no books, no manuals to tell me how a man who has been on this earth this long is supposed to feel. If there were, I doubt I’d read them.
4. I know I’m old and I don’t pretend to be otherwise, regardless of how young I may feel. I’m reminded of my age every day, whenever I nod to my reflection in the mirror. I’ve been living with a bad shoulder for almost a year and with a bad back for two decades, so every time I move a muscle I am reminded of how long this body has been toiling away at life.
5. When my body doesn’t rudely remind me of my age, other people do. The doctor I saw for my shoulder, for instance, prefaced every other sentence with the refrain, “Well,
you’re 69 years old,” as if I needed to be reminded of that vital statistic. And recently I became friends with a young Colombian couple. She is my classmate at the Alliance Française and he is a composer/pianist who teaches at Houston Community College. I love being around them because they are so full of life, of enthusiasm, but every time I see them I am reminded of the age difference when he calls me, “Don Juan.” I welcome that, though. I believe that the bowing in respect to a life lived long through the use of usted instead of tu – and the use of Don or Doña before first names – is a noble and useful tradition. In fact, for some time now, I’ve demanded of Siri that it address me as “Don Juan.” And he dutifully complies. (That’s right, my Siri is a guy, and he talks like a Brit; makes me feel as if I have a butler.)
6. I am in relatively good health. I still do my gym ritual three to five times a week, despite my bad shoulder (just yesterday I nudged up the weight on the leg press one more notch, to 405 pounds). I still ride my bike to the gym, and on days I don’t go to the gym, I ride along the bayou paths, a good 10 to 13 miles. Despite all that exercise, I still eat too much and I drink too much, and so I continue to be fat.
7. I find myself thinking about death more often, even though I’m probably doomed to live quite a few more years, given my family’s nasty habit of living long lives (both of my grandfathers, one grandmother and both parents died in their 80s. One aunt lived to be 103. My oldest sister just turned 87). I’m not saying I’m looking forward to dying, but I think I’m beginning to approach an understanding of how really old people who have outlived their siblings, spouses and friends can decide that enough is enough, it’s time to go. Mi Tía Pancha (Francisca Morín), who also died in her 80s, outliving most of her siblings, once told my sisters that she was embarrassed at having lived so long. “¡Que vergüenza!” she said. I think that’ll be my attitude should I get really old. Life is good. It’s fun, mostly. It’s worth living. But I’m convinced that there comes a time when we all realize that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
8. Little by little, things that I had seen as irreplaceable – those constants of my life that have been sources of pleasure and/or inspiration – are going away, saying good-bye. Last year it was Jon Stewart and Dave Letterman saying good-by. Now it’s Garrison Keillor. They’re gone. They’ll never be back. Yes, I can download and listen to podcasts of Prairie Home Companion, but it’s not the same thing. Saturday evenings from 5 to 7 will no longer be a special, magical two hours. Thank heaven the Car Talk guys will be around forever. They will, won’t they? I think that perhaps the rule for when you should be allowed to call it quits should be: if you’ve reached a point in your life when you no longer feel that you’re going to be missing out on meaningful and exciting things, then it’s a good time to die if you want.
9. Speaking of dying, when did that verb become a dirty word, and why? People, like all living things, die. They don’t pass. They don’t pass away or on. They don’t go home. We don’t lose them. They die, period.
10. I miss my old boss, mentor and good friend, Bob Barton Jr., a man who went to his grave failing to grasp the power of his sonorous voice and the powerful effect of his principles and courage. I would love to hear his take on the current political situation. A yellow-dog Democrat and civil rights champion his entire life, he would no doubt have plenty to say about the fool named Donald Trump. Bob was a populist, though, so he might have been a Bernie supporter were he alive. But even if he hadn’t, he would have been a lot more tolerant of Bernie’s and his army than I have been. Bob was an optimist, a man of hope, something I am not, and perhaps that’s what I miss the most about him.
11. I’m extraordinarily grateful for the many friends I have. These may not be among the most astute people in the world (they can’t be if they think I’m a good guy!), but they’re my friends and I love them.
12. Ditto for family. In a few days I’ll be heading to California for our first-ever family reunion (descendants of my parents). I had been disappointed that a number of young family members opted against attending, until I thought back to my attitude when I was their age. Family wasn’t that important then. It was something you escaped from, not flocked to. As I aged, though, family (and friends) became more important. That’s something you learn on your own, though, over time. It can’t be taught, and it can’t be forced on you.
13. My oldest sister, María Luisa, called to ask for my address. She didn’t say why but I’m sure she is sending me a birthday card. This is how she wished me happy birthday last year, in a handwritten note (in Spanish): “July 7 is a special day because on that date you first saw the light of the world … Life is meant to be lived in the moment. Squeeze the juice out of life and savor it. Move forward, always. Backwards? Never.”
14. And with that, I move forward. Thanks for reading.
Happy Birthday to our dear friend, Juan! He visited us at our home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico this past Spring. Despite his self-deprecating musings about being old, cranky (a curmudgeon?), it is not true. He intellect, humor, calm demeanor and love for friends make him not just a great house guest but a good friend as well.
Juan–too much on the death thing. As my mother-in-law used to tell my wife, “cosa mala nunca muere”–bad things never die. So, I think that you will be with us for awhile to come. Besides, at 70, think of the birthday spanking.
Cosa mala — what my mother used to say. About my father!
Thank you for your constant reminder of the value of life, family, and respect. I love our Don Juan!
Juan, thank you for sharing your reflections. And here are few random thoughts from me to you:
1. You are damn right to feel young!!! I could have never even get close to guess your age if I hadn’t read this text.
2. You are an excellent writer!
3. I loved your tactfullness to be pragmatic, sarcastic and vulnerable at the same time.
5. Lately I’ve been struggling a bit to wake up early, but this morning it was a real pleasure and I enjoyed a lot waking up super early to make the arepas to celebrate your birthday at French class.
4. I noticed when you openned the basket and took a picture of the arepas and you seemed happy and like you liked them, and that really made my day.
5. I fancy (with a brit accent, since you seem to like it) your artistic vibe.
6. I often lost focus on the class for snooping on your drawings (I really enjoy them)
7. Everything time we have to tell about our weekend and you talk about the recepies you cooked, makes wish I get to taste your food one day.
8. I guess you don’t have an idea of how this text touched me.
So there it is… I hope you had an excellent day.
Y que Dios te bendiga (en español y todo).
Muchisimas gracias. Ton paroles sont touchant. I’m thinking of inviting everyone to my love for a class session, so you may be able to taste some of my foods. Don’t know if they’ll be as good as your arepas, though.
In San Miguel, we call them gorditas! I have a favorite little cafe in San Miguel in the middle of one of the Colonia’s for gorditas. The restaurant is in the front of the family house, and they live in back and above. The woman makes about ten or twelve clay pots with different stuffings for the gorditas. She then cooks the thick maza on a flat grill while you wait and then tell her which stuffing you want in them. They cost about a buck each.