On Turning 70

Today, on my 70th birthday, I’m recalling the catchphrase we freely cast about during the turbulent years of the late 1960s: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” I was in my 20s then, unyielding, arrogant, bulletproof (in my mind anyway), and I think we spoke those words not only to set ourselves apart from our elders, but to freak them out a bit in the process.

Given my lifestyle during that time, I’m not sure I really anticipated reaching 30 . . . or that I even wanted to. But here I am four decades beyond that imaginary line of demarcation wondering what’s next for me and what I’ll do with the time I have left in my bodily form.

BRM-SLL-Saba-closeup

Bruce & Shonnie

In a recent journal entry, I have discovered one thing: I detest the thought of becoming feeble, incompetent or defenseless in my later years. I have consistently given a high value to being healthy, strong, athletic and able to take care of myself and those around me. I played football through my college years and handball since I was 30 or so. I took up running a few years thereafter. During this time, I’ve played in competitive handball tournaments and run marathons, as well as long trail races. And I still play handball a couple of times a week and go on occasional trail runs. Plus I frequently ride my bike around town instead of driving.

In addition, in recent years I’ve worked in a couple of grueling political campaigns (Obama in Ohio in ’08 and Patsy Keever for Congress in NC-10 in ’12) that are typically the domain of 20- or 30-somethings. Oh, and I have a 2.5-year-old daughter Gracelyn conceived by natural means.

So I’m not headed for the rocking chair any time soon. But I know I’m half-a-step slower on the handball court. And my stamina for long runs is not what it once was. Plus recovery time is a bitch. The thrill of the political arena is receding rapidly. Perhaps most significantly, it’s clear when I look in the mirror that I’m aging, and it’s clear in my mind that I’m not yet at peace with this terminal process.

G-2-5

Gracelyn Lavender Mulkey

To paraphrase Woody Allen, “I am not afraid of growing old, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” But it does happen. To all of us . . . unless we die beforehand. So how do I say “yes” to this natural flow of life—birth to youth to middle age to elderly to death? Do I now accept my place as an elder in the tribe in a culture in which the elderly are often stereotyped, segregated and warehoused in institutions for the ill and infirm?

Or am I the anomaly, the exception to the rule? Perhaps aging won’t affect me as adversely as it does some in their 70s and 80s. After all, I’ve just undergone a battery of labs and tests that show I’m healthy with virtually no risk of stroke or heart attack. Perhaps I’ll keep going at this pace, and one day I’ll just be used up, spent, exhausted, my ashes laid to rest in my adopted home in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Perhaps these thoughts are the residual arrogance of my 20s.

On this day, April 28, 2013, I know this: In many ways, some of my best years lie before me. I have books to write, direct action to take, new places and concepts to explore, mysteries to unearth, mountain trails to run, friends and family to love and a young daughter to shepherd into adulthood with my sweet Shonnie. So I trust I will find my way on this tricky terrain and, perhaps, support others in doing so as well.

Everything that happens to us is feedback from reality, thus there is value in everything that comes our way, even the so-called bad stuff. At 70, I have faith that life/reality will continue to awaken me to my path during the next couple of decades. All I need do is pay attention and to remember: Aging is inevitable; growing old is not.

Oh, and the guy Jack Weinberg who coined the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” a few years ago he turned 70 too. 🙂

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Showing 12 comments
  • Jackie Cure

    I ran across your entry on Facebook….so, so good. Thank you for sharing the words. Combined, they painted a most gracious picture of you and your journey.
    Namaste
    jc

  • Chuck Brown

    You make seventy look great…keep up the good work you do always! Blessings on you Shonnie and Gracelyn.

  • Isaac

    Happy 70th Bruce. You are an inspiration in many ways. Keep up the good life.

  • Barbara "Bo" Nicholson

    We have a friend who writes a column for local news and she focused a recent one “what’s GOOD abut growing older”. Great unusual question! We both came up with a number of reasons easily. Think about it everyone.

  • Aile

    As many of us join you in edging toward our later years in life, I celebrate your wisdom, your willingness to look at the thornier issues… and here you are, coming through this milestone birthday with some powerful words, a positive, realistic perspective, and a super quote: “Aging is inevitable; growing old is not.” Rock on, Bruce… The best is yet to come!

  • Bruce Elkin

    Happy Birthday, Bruce! I found your piece on FB due to my friendship with Doc Klein of Ashville, NC. I’m turning 70 in May. And wondering some of the same things you do. Your piece made me smile, gave me a sense that I’m not alone and that this is something to celebrate, not lament. Thanks!
    Bruce

  • Len Carrier

    Happy birthday, my friend. To paraphrase Robert Frost, “You have miles to go before you sleep.”
    By the way, next month I’ll turn 79, and I’m looking forward to playing tennis in the AVL City Open in July (doubles only, due to my advancing decrepitude and two artificial knees), but so far the brain continues to function normally.

  • Linda Frey

    Hi Warrior Bruce,
    So nice to see you are 70 today. Happy Birthday to YOU.
    I will turn 70 in June and I too feel as you do.
    The years are there, but the mind does not
    feel it –
    Love to you and Shonnie and Gracelyn

  • Bruce

    At 64 (65 in August)I am struggling to reach the mental environment that you have obviously obtained. Your above entry is a wonderful inspiration for my journey.
    Thank you!
    another Bruce

  • pat polansky

    Bruce, you perfectly nailed my own thoughts and feelings on aging. Thank you! I’m still adjusting to a body that is slowing down, and I find it very frustrating. I know I must accept and not resist the inevitable. That’s the hard part.

  • Jenny Meadows

    Hey, Bruce! You wrote: “Do I now accept my place as an elder in the tribe in a culture in which the elderly are often stereotyped, segregated and warehoused in institutions for the ill and infirm?”
    You sooo don’t have a place in that culture! What is YOUR place? I think if you’ll look at your feet, you’ll find it. It’s a lovely place wherever you are, cz YOU are there!
    Hugs and love,
    Jen

  • Sara Evans

    Bruce, I am just 7 months behind you. Thanks for the inspiration. I’ll try to walk in the path you have blazed.