Reasons to Live: Happy 70th Birthday to Me!

I’ve grown up knowing these familiar words from Psalm 90: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. . . . Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Today I reach that biblical age of 70, and feel very much like I’m not done with life yet. I’m definitely hoping my strength endures until at least 80, and that the best of the days I have left are NOT trouble and sorrow! My parents both lived into their early 90s, as did my maternal grandmother and several aunts and uncles on both sides of my family; longevity is in the genes. But since no one knows how long he or she will live, the Psalmist’s admonition to “number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” is good advice.

The reasons I want to go on living are many, but right now they fall into three categories. Two are probably obvious, while the third dips into controversial waters but is something very much on my mind these days.

Our next Cape May beach pic will include two more little ones!

My family. You would expect me to say this, but it’s still true! I love my husband and want to grow old with him. I also love my two children and their spouses, I’m proud of the truly good people they are and how they’ve chosen to live their lives, much of which I never could have imagined 20-25 years ago. I look forward to seeing what else life has in store for them.

Then there are the grandchildren. This year, with the impending arrival of two more, I have a particularly strong reason to want to live. I am so excited about being grandma to twins. I certainly never thought such a thing would happen in our family, but here we are, about two months out from welcoming twins. I want to be available and healthy enough to help with the extra work that will be involved in caring for them, not only in the early months when things are sure to be hectic and stressful for their parents but also in the years to come. Meanwhile, Alecia (15) is fast approaching young adulthood, Justis (almost 12) will be a teenager before you know it, and the “little cousins,” Selena and Piper (six just yesterday and four, respectively), won’t be little much longer. They’re all growing up and I want to be around to see it happen. I never knew three of my own grandparents, and the fourth always seemed somewhat stern and remote, so I want my grandchildren to remember this grandma (me) as available, generous, and at least a little fun to be around.

Doing what I enjoy. In retirement, I haven’t been bored. There’s always something else to think about doing. Sometimes, I feel like I still have too many deadlines – as soon as I get one publication to the printer, it’s time to work on the next, or I’m working on multiple projects simultaneously. I remind myself that being able to manage all those projects and deadlines relatively competently is a sign that my brain is still working well, and that’s encouraging! In addition to the formal editorial assignments I still have (mostly volunteer, with one small paid contract that is almost over), I want to continue writing for myself. I’m part of two book clubs and always have a pile of non-book-club books waiting on my to-read list. With the impending arrival of twin grandbabies, Dale and I have put our travel plans on hold for a bit, but there are still places I’d like to go – especially in other parts of the world.

One of my fraternal twin-themed knitting projects

Knitting also continues to give me pleasure. Lately, I’ve read a number of articles touting the health benefits of knitting, providing justification for my yarn stash and habit of checking out local yarn stores wherever we travel. I will never measure up to my mother’s knitting skills, but it won’t be for lacking of knitting! And then there’s always the basement with its boxes of memorabilia to be sorted (while memories are jogged) and “stuff” to be thrown away. I only wish I enjoyed the de-cluttering process as much as I enjoy lots of other things!

Surviving a national nightmare. Sometime, after he became president following the resignation of Richard Nixon over Watergate, Gerald Ford declared: “Our long national nightmare is over.” Now I feel like we are in the middle of another national nightmare, and I long for the day when this one is over. I can’t count the number of times someone has said about something our current president has done or said, “This is not normal.” I know that “not normal” is exactly why many people voted for him, but personally I’d like a bit of normal.

I’ll spare you my detailed list of the things about this presidency that are not normal and distress me, but here’s a sampling: regular attacks on the basic underpinnings of democracy and the rule of law, unprecedented levels of dishonesty and misinformation, gaslighting, petty insults and bullying that are beneath the dignity of anyone let alone the president of the United States, hypocrisy, racist and xenophobic language and behavior, apparent conflicts of interest and self-dealing, questionable ethics, ill-advised and mean-spirited policies, and so on.

As I’ve said before, I expect the typical ebb and flow of policy changes when one party takes over from another. I can somewhat understand how the president’s supporters believe he is doing exactly what they wanted when they voted for him. What I can’t understand is how policy changes are worth the assaults on democracy, fundamental decency, truth, and basic morality, and how so many who would be outraged by such behavior in anyone else seem to have little problem with it in this president as long as they get what they want.

A good friend told me last year that one of her goals in life is to take care of herself so she will live to see decency and democratic norms restored when this presidency finally ends. I have joined her in that goal!

Finally, my challenge to myself on my 70th birthday: I want to increase my ability to focus on the good things – my family, the daily aspects of life that I enjoy, and my primary commitment to the kingdom of God rather than any earthly kingdom or political party – instead of on the chaos of the current political scene. Even while I long for this “national nightmare” to be over, I want to keep doing the right thing and, as I wrote before, “to speak truth with words that give grace. Whatever awfulness is happening in politics, I want to live by the Christian values that have guided my whole life, even when it is really hard. I’m also reaffirming the three wishes I wrote for my birthday in 2016 (the ability to “be still and know that I am God,” a sharp mind, and an attitude of gratitude) and in 2017 (a fair U. S. political system, a world where my grandchildren can survive and thrive, and the ability to age well).

Returning to Psalm 90: I want to cultivate that “heart of wisdom” that should come with age – another good reason to live!

 

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Three Birthday Wishes

Harriet-1948 1

One of the earliest photos I have of myself – another treasure from that vintage suitcase. Circa 1948, Matopo Mission, Southern Rhodesia.

As I celebrate my birthday on primary election day in Pennsylvania, in the middle of one of the oddest and most frustrating presidential campaigns ever (in my memory, at least), there are many things I could wish for, but I’ve limited myself to three wishes. One relates directly to presidential politics, one looks beyond this year’s election to the future, and one is more personal as I edge ever closer to my seventh decade.

I wish for a U. S. political system that is fair and based more closely on the concept of one-person, one-vote. An upside of this crazy political season has been the exposure of a system that doesn’t really operate that way. Instead, it relies heavily on arcane and complicated rules and the behind-the-scenes machinations of Republican and Democratic Party officials; during the primaries, it disenfranchises many voters who choose not to register as Republicans or Democrats; it allows states to enact new laws and procedures that in effect make it more difficult rather than easier for many people to vote; it feels like wealthy individuals have undue influence on the outcome; it rewards gerrymandering by both parties. While I understand how difficult it would be, both logistically and politically, to change the system, I believe democracy would be so much better served if we could. Perhaps one positive result of the 2016 presidential election cycle will be some steps in that direction. I wish….

I wish for a world in which my grandchildren and their children and grandchildren can survive and thrive. That kind of world is in many ways summed up in the “fruit of the Spirit,” as enumerated in Galatians 5 – a world where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control abound. Just writing those words makes me feel like my wish is a pipe dream, completely unattainable, and the stuff of unrealistic idealism that doesn’t recognize the realities of evil in the world. But, what if everyone truly tried to embody those characteristics? Or as a start, what if everyone who claims to be Christian did?

In the world I wish for, my grandchildren and their children and grandchildren will:

  • Live with hope and optimism that they can make a positive difference in the world, rather than be ruled by fear and apocalyptic pessimism
  • Be part of systems that are generous and compassionate toward the dispossessed and marginalized
  • Have plenty of clean air and clean water, along with beautiful natural spaces to explore and enjoy
  • Live in safe neighborhoods, not threatened by random gun violence or other threats to their well-being
  • Be able to get an excellent education and quality healthcare without saddling themselves with huge debt
  • Have equal opportunities and not be discriminated against, regardless of their gender, race, or ethnicity
  • Learn how to be peacemakers and resolve conflicts in ways that don’t depend on violence and hateful rhetoric
  • Be willing to forgive and show mercy to those who might not deserve it
  • Recognize that their own freedom should not come at the expense of others
  • Treat others the way they wish to be treated

I wish to be able to age well. When I think about what my parents were like at the age I am today (68), I remember them as already seeming old, even though they lived to be really old (91 and 93, respectively). When I think of myself, I don’t feel old; in fact, except for those periodic aches and pains (like the “crick” I’ve had in my shoulder for the last few days), I feel like I’m still in my 40s. But I have one child who is in her 40s, and another who is approaching that milestone, so clearly I’m not. I might not be old yet, but I’m certainly well on my way!

At my annual wellness exam in February, the nurse checked my mental status – something I assume is a standard part of wellness exams for those of Medicare age. She gave me three words to remember while she conducted some other tests, and then instructed me to repeat the three words. This test always panics me a bit: what if I can’t remember the words? But I had no trouble, and in fact still remember the three words: apple, table, penny. If I remember the words all the way to next year’s exam, will that prove that there is no cognitive decline?

If I had my wish, good aging would include the continued pleasure of good and loving relationships with family and friends, interesting hobbies, travel, meaningful activities, and being able to contribute to a better and more peaceful world. It would be free of excessive pain and devastating disease, and it would not include cognitive decline. But I know that what I wish for may not happen. I have some control – for example, I knit, read, play word games, and write, which are all activities that are supposed to keep one’s brain active – but there are many things I can’t control. When the inevitable aging process begins to take its toll in significant ways, I wish for the patience and grace to accept it and not become a difficult person, filled with anger, bitterness, depression, and regrets. I may not want to “go gentle into that good night,” but I also don’t want to resist it so much that I make myself and everyone else miserable! I want to age well, and then to die well.

Three wishes for my birthday. Which ones will come true?