When I was a young woman my parents seemed unchangeable in their 50s and beyond. Except for their changing physical appearance and capacity, they were who they were, at least to my mind. They played bridge, attended cocktail parties, watched the evening news, kept a tidy house, travelled. I didn't observe any new hobbies or interests or ways of thinking. My perception was that people stayed the same once they got older - that you only got to grow and change until you were a certain age.
I'll be 65 this year. Since my husband and I quit working three years ago, we've taken 27 trips ranging in duration from 3 days to 75. We wrote and published a book Return to Viet Nam: One Veteran's Journey of Healing. I took 140 hours of training and became a certified mediator practitioner. I've been called "adventuresome" by a nephew, and my kids are impressed that I can snorkel. A few of them have met us for a few days at a travel destination. Another few of them are surprised by how active we are. Do they have the same ideas about "my parents the older people" as I did? Maybe. I don't think being able to snorkel at 65 is that big a deal. You just put on your mask, put your face in the water, and you're there.
When I go to my water aerobics class three mornings a week at the community center, most of my classmates are women my age or older. They chat about kids and grandkids and recipes. I feel like a total outsider in those conversations. I think that might be why I so enjoyed our two months as snowbirds at an RV resort in Tucson. I was around people more like me.
Here's the deal. I'll be 65 whether I stay at home or whether I travel. Whether I watch TV all day or whether I write a book. Whether I putter in the house or take water aerobics. I know 65 is a just a number, but it's also a chronological age. I hurt my back a couple of years ago and am still affected by that injury. I'm healthy now but have no guarantees that it will continue. So I have choices as to how I'm going to live.
I was at an exercise class in Tucson earlier this year. About 60 55-plus folks were setting up their mats on the floor of a multipurpose room. A woman spoke to a newcomer, a man, who was on the sidelines. He said, "I don't know whether I can do this." The woman said, "We're older. We all hurt somewhere. Come on over and try this exercise." And the man did.
My sister Alyx will be 58 this year. She has had a colorful life. In two weeks she will be pinned as a nurse in Anchorage after two years of rigorous, exhausting training. Here's her blog entry about that event. My husband and I will be there, as my mother would say, "with bells on".
If not now, when? "Come on over and try."
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