Dance to the Music
Note: This piece was written one week ago, at Tierra Del Mar on the Oregon coast, in a cottage shared with my son Spenser.
Someone asked me what it’s like to be 70. Is that a question? Is this a multiple choice test? In seventh grade a few of my more devilish classmates stuffed me in a metal wastepaper basket and lifted it and put it on the teacher’s desk. They scurried back to their chairs and I was there, in the basket on the desk top, likely struggling to push myself up and out when Mr. Gillette opened the classroom door and walked in. It was seventh grade science.
Is that some of the answer, collected moments of embarrassment, a piece of my being 70? Or the fact I didn’t punch someone or someones to spare myself that indignity? Maybe it matters because I did not experience it as an indignity. Like, nah, it was kind of cool. The fool on the desk, every single pair of eyes in the room on me. Is the being looked at the thing? Noticed? Is that what it’s like to be 70? Because I don’t know.
Apparently I have not properly researched the subject. As usual there is an I don’t care-ness to my life, but that’s always been there – always been me – so not a unique description of the psychology of seven decades.
I am excited to go walking on the beach, there’s that. Almost to the point of “can’t wait”. It is so rare an opportunity these days, based in land-locked Portland. To grab and stab at thrills when they present themselves? Is this 70?
I have regrets, many, and this feels like I have inched closer to the answer. This, though, feels only partial as an inclusive answer – rather here and there. Like, this 70 equals regret, because at other heres and in other theres, I have never, at 70, felt so blessed. Maybe emotional schizophrenia is 70. Or possibly something about attention and the quality of attention — did you notice I have noticed both those places of emotion in which to live, my repertoire of my 71st year? – this regret, these blessings.
So possibly the formal answer is this: “To be 70 is to be attentive.” It doesn’t sound like something Shakespeare would write, though I honestly don’t know if William lived into his 71st year. Does that mean to be 70 is to know Google? Because I can find out, you know, Bill’s birthday and death day.
And death — the thought of dying comes calling more often here at 70, and not having lived, as Wallace Stegner calls it, “all the way to the bone”, and also what will it be like to be asked no further questions — when I’m gone – even as I leave a bunch?
I miss my wife when I’m not with her, I can ache for her, and I am afraid to think I had to be 70 to get to this place of love. But that, then, would be a “me” answer and not a general answer to the question, no proclamation that to be 70 is to feel love. Romeo and Juliet weren’t 70.
So, actually, I don’t fucking know.
I do know the coffee was delicious this morning.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s the little things. And maybe it’s the big things too. The all of it.
Maybe that’s 70.
Post Note: Just the other day I learned one of my all-time best friends in the world, Billy MacDonald, had passed away. I believe he was 68. Perhaps it is possible, then, that to be 70 is to experience loss as a growing capacity. To be fully aware the clock is winding down. And, as such, aware that every day given – every day above ground – is a special gift, one to be celebrated in a big, big way.
Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music.