A post by John:
Today is my birthday. I am now 70 years old. Carol was born 3 months after I was, so she, too, will celebrate her 70th birthday this year. Birthdays and age have never been a concern to either of us until this year. We have talked about...thought about...discussed, laughed and contemplated this event for several months.
The first time I can remember realizing someone was in their 70s was when I was a child. My grandparents lived next door. Just before my grandfather died, he became very ill and needing almost constant care, he took up brief residence in my parents' bedroom. He was so sick that he was transferred onto an ambulance stretcher, placed in my father’s ambulance, and transported to a Denver hospital where he died. He was in his 70s. I know that because I remember my parents telling me his age; and that made a deep impression on me. I thought when someone reached 70 they were so old that they were near death.
My father owned an ambulance business and before I was a teenager I was accompaning my father on the ambulance as an attendant. We transported many elderly people to the hospital from West’s Nursing Home, which was first located in Palmer Lake and later in Castle Rock, Colorado. Many of those patients were in their 70s. They were physically ill, usually emaciated and disoriented, and they almost always smelled like body waste.
In spite of the negative issues associated with 70-year-olds, I tended to like them personally. My grandmother was kind and a fun person to spent time with, her Swedish friends from Denver were a hoot. I enjoyed talking with those people as well as those folks we transported to the hospital and the old members of our church.
I began assisting my father at funerals before I was even in high school. One of my responsibilities was to greet people as they arrived for a funeral, invited them to sign the guest register, and show them to a seat. Most people who attend funerals are elderly and because we lived in a small community, everyone of those elderly people knew me. To a person they were kind and friendly and they genuinely liked conversing with me.
Old people were a constant and positive part of my life. I was taught to respect older people and I did. Spending time in their presence exposed me to their life stories and experiences. I could easily become fascinated with a humerous or interesting story that related to an old person’s life.
It’s funny that all this exposure from a very early age never led me to consider the fact I’d grow old. I’ve always seen myself as young, strong, and capable. When I reached my 50th birthday I had just started a new chapter in my ministry career by accepting a Rector’s postion in a new congregation. Most members of that church were 20 or more years older than I was and they let me know in no uncertain terms that I was their junior.
Being 50 offered me the opportunity to join AARP. That meant lots of senior discounts. How cool, I got senior discounts and felt like I was in my early 40s!
Carol and I began attending Elder Hostel weekends because we were finally “old enough” to particiate. But when we went to the weekend gathering our fellow attendees were all older and, again, they constantly were bringing up the fact they were surprised we were “old enough” to share that experience with them.
By the time I went into simi-retirement I was a very young 55. I was delighted to be moving into retirement, but I was often embarrased to tell people I was simi-retired. I would hear people say: “Your too young to retire!”
When I reached 60 I retired. Carol and I were physically active. We ran 12 to 15 miles a week and weight trained three days a week. We traveled in a 5th wheel RV extensively and volunteered in State and National Parks performing strenous tasks. When we compared ourselves with our peers we were almost always in better physical condition and willing and able to physically do anything we chose.
In our 69th year, Carol and I drove our RV from Arizona to the southern tip of Texas and spent 3 months volunteering at a U S Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Then we drove 11,000 on a wonderful trip to Canada and Alaska. Not something an elderly person would do, would they. At least if they thought of themselves as elderly. We didn’t so we did.
That trip, however, was physically taxing. Through out those months of travel we kept reflecting and commenting on how we were feeling the effects of the adventure. We came away from the experience saying we would probably never expose ourselves to another trip that demands so much of our attention and time and effort.
For perhaps the first time in our lives we have been aware of the effects of our age. Oh, that doesn't mean we smell bad, and we are not emaciated. But for the first time in our lives we have to admit changes are coming. AND, for the first time in my life...I feel my age...and my age is 70.