My life is a full-time job
I emerge from two weeks of “Grandma Camp” and family time, and realize that it’s April and I’m about to turn 70 years old! The world is greening around me— asparagus is up, tulips are peaking, and our flowering crab apple tree is having a glorious bloom after soaking winter rains. I am profoundly thankful to be surrounded by this beauty; and I know it is impermanent, and I know I am impermanent.
Turning 70 is a big deal—and a privilege. Not everyone gets here… mortality is more real to me than in the decade behind me when I jokingly said, “Every year is like a speed limit—life seems to be moving faster and faster.” Well, 70 is a shift into the larger mystery. I intend to use it well—the day, the year, and (with health and good fortune) the decade.
Last August, when my friend Barbara Borden turned 70, I began thinking of the nine months preceding my own 70th birthday as a gestational time. Barbara and I proclaim that she was born on the day I was conceived, so I anticipated a period to reflect, assess, and set goals. I imagined the winter of handing on The Circle Way as a moment of breath and redefinition, exploring how our educational company, PeerSpirit might articulate its own transition. I began a correspondence with several friends in the turning-70-cohort exploring the meaning of this passage for us. I thought I could hang on to this thread, but life happened and took up all that contemplative space. Mom-care and other family concerns, the work and complex communication required to serve on the neighborhood association board as we face repairing the bluff/beach access, the ongoing transition needs of work, and and and…
It seems there is no easy fix to anything anymore.
I want to think of this coming decade as a golden era in which I can bring together my two life passions of activism and story. I want to be a walking/talking/writing antidote to the frenzy of tweets and texts and fractured sound-bytes that stream off the devices we now carry with us everywhere. I seek opportunities every day to practice transforming experience into story and making a narrative that leads to greater civility and cooperation. Hey let’s just be us: listening, speaking, framing a world we can stand in together.
I am writing a book because the story keeps welling up inside me in spite of everything that calls me away and pulls at my time and attention. These characters are my birthday present. I don’t know what will come of it, only that I am dedicated to this particular story. I want to live long enough to tell this tale. I don’t know why it’s important beyond my own creative fantasy, just that it is.
When acquaintances ask, “So how’s retirement?” I don’t know how to answer. The word seems irrelevant and meaningless to my actual life. I don’t know what to say because saying anything is a much longer story than they may be expecting in a brief encounter, so I just smile and tell them, “I’m not retired. Being myself @ 70 is a full-time job.”
This blog entry is the beginning of a longer story that I intend to dip into this year: what does it mean to turn 70, to stand in the privilege of age and aging? What do I choose as I face into a decade that may well be my last full-on shot of contribution and energy? What remains mine to do now in regards to the larger issues around me? How will I expend and celebrate the strengths I have and admit the fading of strengths as I notice them? How do I come home?
To begin, Ann and I are heading into a five-day birthday retreat—off line, just us and Gracie, and a nearby island to explore. Alone and together, in silence and circle, turning a funky beach cabin into sanctuary. My gestational imagery returns… along with the labor of giving birth to myself in the new now.
The continuation is full of starts, isn’t it? This makes me think of theologian Matthew Fox’s reframing of “retirement”. He calls it “refirement”. May you be refired in graceful ways, Christina. And love to Ann and Gracie, please.
I love refirement–there is such a shift going on in this aging thing. Thanks for tracking with us as you do.
Lovie: Of course, I’m only a few months behind you in the business of turning 70, and I find myself aware of it in every decision I make. For example, I’m still searching for an affordable place to live, and my sister (with whom I’m currently staying) nudges me every day to “just take anything! It’s only a few years of your life!” But to me, living in awareness that every year is an important time now, there are no throwaway years, I must have certain fundamental things. Access to beauty is paramount, so I can absorb more every day. To keep my dog companion is critical. Her sweetness greets me every morning. And so on. The list is long, and she quickly tires of what she calls my “excuses.” I call it holding my center. For all the distractions that come my way, holding my center, living from my own wisdom, is what most means something to me. May it be so! Love you! Happy birthday!
It’s so interesting to realize that everyone we went to kindergarten with, graduated from high school with, started Medicare with is now turning 70 with us as well. Hang onto your vision of beauty around you and that sweet dog. Sending you energy for coming home.
“I’m not retired. Being myself @ 70 is a full-time job.” Favorite line. It’s a stupid question that flummoxes me as well. My mother, at 99, says her 80s were her favorite decade. All in the perspective, dear friend. Enjoy your celebration!
Wow, a favorite decade still to look forward to! I’m aiming to make this one a great one, and then we’ll see about long, longevity.
Welcome to this new decade, Christina. Being about to turn 78, I’ve had a few years to contemplate this phenomenon. For one thing, being in one’s 70’s has helped me to say yes when I mean it from my heart and no when I feel obligation, or just ‘cuz someone I admire asked me. I need/want more time to listen inside, to frame my own answers to the deep questions that draw me now. I have relished Falling Upward, Richard Rohr’s book on spirituality at and beyond midlife. My soul is quieter these days, even while my blood roils at the political scene. I will be at work in the campaign(s). Love to you and Ann.
You are definitely a role model for vibrant 70’s. I hope that I get to that reflective stage. In some ways the writing does that for me: everything else drops aside and I hear through the voices of my characters the things my own soul is delivering to my writing/reading self. Be well–and love to you and Mary.
I look forward to sharing your experiences of this important transition and can just hope I will experience it with grace when and if my time comes. My focus right now is how I can bring love and joy into the world and that’s a full time job too. With love and kind wishes.
Stephen, your life is indeed a full-time job. Good to hear from you, and love and kind wishes returned.
Thank you Christina a beautiful sharing of your milestone and life. I love what you say about standing together in story. I’m facing a milestone year too – 40 and am struggling with what I can see is classic mid-life stuff about meaning, purpose and letting go. I am also hoping to fufuil my deepest held wish of becoming a biological mother, as a single woman and questioning what it is to be a woman for me in today’s world. Thank you for sharing and inspiration, love Nicole
Hello Nicole, I think these decade birthdays, whatever the decade, catapult us into seeking what is essential My 95 year old mother, from the fog of her neurological limitations, still calls and asks me what is her meaning, purpose, and how to let go, so I think this is a search that continues throughout our lives. Blessings to you in the work you do, the writing you do, the dreams you hold, and the baby you want.
So beautifully put, Christina: “to stand in the privilege of age and aging? What do I choose as I face into a decade that may well be my last full-on shot of contribution and energy? ” And I appreciate the reframing of “refirement”, and that our lives are full time jobs when we choose to be engaged and present to the world within and without.
Happy birthday, my friend. Love and blessings to you, Ann and Gracie, to your island retreat as you mark this special turning in ceremony.
Thank you for your thoughtful sharing, Christina. I look forward to receiving your insights. I’ll join Club 70 in just a couple of years and am eyeing it (and beyond) with curiosity and a kind of wondrous anticipation. My experience so far is that our older years may bring an abundance of grace. In my case, upon turning 65, Life brought me a wholly new and thrilling Calling, one that my experience with community, law, and publishing seem uniquely to have prepared me for, and may keep me serenely busy for decades. Be on the lookout for grace, Christina! I have a sense that aging and purpose are inversely proportional: the greater one’s purpose, the less one ages. Obviously your life is dedicated to high purpose. So, dear Christina, I think you can anticipate graceful and joyous aging.
Thanks. I do see the relationship between purpose and aging and grace. My father lives here on Whidbey with great purpose and says he never wants to wake up with no reason to get out of bed. I am learning from him.
I’d love to know what your new calling is… be well.
I’ve only recently found your blog and I’m delighted with your post on turning 70. I’m turning 70 myself in October, and indeed this is causing me to reflect. I appreciate you your insights and inspiration. Thank you and best wishes, Margaret
Welcome Margaret–both to the blog and to the portal to the 70s.
This is really wonderful. You are a very eloquent writer. I’m going to be fifty this year. I don’t know how I got here but I’m not sure yet how I feel about it. The only reflection I’ve recently made that is sticking around is that I’ve noticed I’m becoming a bit invisible to men. And how relieved I am that I don’t have to make up reasons for my lack of interest in talking with most of them.
“I’m not retired. Being myself @70 is a full time job” has got to be one of the best replies ever, Christina – I really love it! (Insert my age – it still works) Your story is so well stated and oh so timely for all of us who want to keep our lives enjoyable and worth something at this stage we find ourselves. Especially since many of us have witnessed our parents struggle – living seemingly endlessly without desire or purpose – and we wanting to be too wise to let ourselves get to that state.
You wear your zest for life well – this decade will serve you well, I am sure! Happy Birthday to YOU!
Happy Birthday Christina and welcome to the 70’s. At the end of May I will turn lucky 77 and here is where I am. As you may remember I retired and lived with my Dad from his age 90 until his death at 100 and a half. Watching and caring for him gave me a preview. He lived and died with grace even though as the last of his generation of family and friends he was lonely. He never tired of watching the Cubs play baseball and would have loved to go to outer space in a rocket ship. Maybe in his next journey he will.
I have spent a year plus tracing my family’s genealogy and writing our history which dates back to England in the 1500’s. And, I have a book to write from learning of these ancestors whose lives made me who I am. The most interesting thing I can share with you now is my awareness of living both here and now in this body and this world and also living in the next when I am no longer in this body. It’s like I float back and forth between these worlds depending on what is happening in the moment. I’m amazed at how strong our bodies are and how much our souls want to thrive and grow.
You will do amazing things Christina; you and Ann already have. As I’ve watched you through the years since we met, each accomplishment has been a launchpad for the next. I’ll be watching and waiting still.
Somehow I am not on the PeerSpirit mailing list, so these blogs have not been coming to me. For some unknown reason, this afternoon the spirit move me to visit the PeerSpirit site and I stumbled onto these reflective notes from you and Ann. This one on aging touched me, especially …..
Recently started into my 76 year and continue my pro-tirement perspective — that is, moving purposefully into each day using my inner spiritual navigation system. Hmm, letting my inner sense of becoming guide me in generative-oriented relationships with friends, family, colleagues, analysands, and students as a primary theme of this unfolding story. An appropriate way to live with passion and presence in the afternoon of this life. …..
Thanks again for your inspiring narrative and to others with their reflections. Quite touching.
Dear Sloane, and others–these blog posts are not automatically sent to the whole list. They are a separate click here thing. Please do sign up, it’s always good to know our words are reaching out in the world.