Milestone birthdays are a lot of fun when you are young. Sweet 16 gets the driver’s license, you can vote at 18, buy booze legally at 21. Then the years start flying. Before you know it, you’re about to turn 30, so you start partying even harder, imagining that having any sort of fun after age 30 is unlikely. But that foolishness quickly passes, and you find that your thirties are nowhere near as awful as you surmised. So you have even more fun until the forties approach and grocery store checkers start calling you, “Ma’am.”
A card that turns into a shriek
By the time you turn 50, men no longer give you the eye. You’ve gotten the message that you are not as attractive as you once were, but life continues to fly by. What to do?
I remember my Aunt Sally Kennedy telling me that when she turned 50, she said to herself, “Now’s the time to start getting this life stuff right.” Aunt Sally was way ahead of me. It took me until age 60 to start aiming life in the right direction, perhaps because I was able to escape the dysfunctional corporate world and focus on managing my own life and writing.
Now that I’m 65, I am officially a senior citizen. Surely this means something more than getting a dollar off at the movies or going on Medicare. When I received my Medicare card in the mail, it came in a white envelope that was so plain, I almost threw it away as junk. Then I opened it, saw my card and burst into a hysterical shriek that made my husband stare at me with a question mark etched in his forehead.
Some do unto others and get what they want
I’ve always been reflective on birthdays, seeing the day as time to take account. Sometimes that brings joy, often regret, sometimes wishful thinking and a lot of “if only’s.” I’ve made a lot of innocent mistakes. My parents were good Midwestern folks with solid Episcopalian values. They were very trusting, too trusting, and I grew up with the same innocence, raised to believe that good things happen to good people who do their best and try hard. Unfortunately I put my future in the hands of people who did not share my mother’s same idea of what “do unto others” means.
Yesterday, I read a fascinating article in Vanity Fair about Kathleen Harriman Mortimer, Averell Harriman‘s daughter. Her grandfather ran a railroad and her daddy was an ambassador, a governor and a cabinet secretary. She married the grandson of an oil baron and was a first-rate equestrienne, who rode amazing cavalry horses that were gifts from Joseph Stalin. In her early twenties, she went to London with her father at the start of World War II. Her father had gotten his daughter a job with Newsweek to report on the lives of English women during the war, but Kathy proved herself observant enough to do real news as she learned how to make “this reporter thing” work out.
Kathy played the role of hostess for her father whose wife stayed in the States. As U.S. ambassador to England, Averell and daughter Kathy entertained and charmed the likes of Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. During this time, Kathy became friends with 21-year-old Pamela Digby Churchill, who was Winston Churchill’s daughter-in-law. Pamela soon became Averell’s lover and, years later, his final wife.
Both Kathy and Pamela were privileged young women, Kathy privileged by wealth, connections and education, and Pamela privileged by beauty and a conniving drive that catapulted her in and out of relationships with powerful men to the degree she wound up U.S. Ambassador to France in her senior years.
Count your blessings, dear
As I look back on my rather average American life, I admit to being quite jealous of the Kathy and Pamela Harrimans of this world. How is it that some people get to lead fascinating lives on the edge of history while my type muck along in the great middle class, always wishing for, wanting more, in spite of the knowledge we have so much more than the majority of the people on this planet.
That was one of my mother’s constant reminders. “Count your blessings, dear,” Mom would say to me whenever I expressed woe at what I did not have, whether that be money, an elite profession, a famous name or major accomplishment. Trouble was, I had no idea how to get these things, and at 65, I have not yet achieved all I hope to. I’m not giving up, but as the taxi driver said, “the meter is running.”
Time is both my enemy and ally, but poor use of time is my flaw.
Resolutions upon reaching senior citizenship
When you reach 65, you are supposed to retire, but from what? I cannot see myself fully retiring from the effort to refine myself as the person I’ve always hoped to be. Therefore, on this 65th birthday, be it resolved that I do my best to make better use of the time I have left. Along the way, I also resolve to “count my blessings” more often, too, with gratitude for the memorable times I’ve had with my three children, four grandchildren, devoted husband Bill, his children, and the in-laws, family members and good friends who give definition to the term, “having a life.”
No, mine has not been the glamorous life of a conniving Pamela Harriman or a privileged Kathy Harriman Mortimer. But as another diva Shirley Bassey—one of my favorite singers of all time—belted out with patented fervor in her signature song, “This is my life, and I don’t give a damn for lost emotions…” If you click the link and listen, you’ll notice that Shirley is pushing 65 herself in this video and has a certain attitude. In a much earlier version of the same song, Bassey appears to be in her twenties or early thirties, much more innocent and trusting at that age, like me. Like you?
So it appears for all of us, reaching age 65 is not a time to retire from anything. For me, it is an age to keep trying to get things right.