ELDER MUSIC: The 7th of April 2016

On Becoming 75

[BIRTHDAY NOTE: Thank you all so much for the many kind greetings you left in the comments yesterday. You made my birthday extra special and I appreciate every one of you. You too, Peter Tibbles, for that excellent musical party.]

* * *

It is not an easily ignored birthday, 75. At least not for me, having been thinking about “what it's really like to grow old” nearly every day for more than 20 years.

Seventy-five is one of those round number, big-deal birthdays notable especially in that it is three-quarters of century. That's saying something, having navigated that many years.

There's no foolin' around anymore. I'm old. No argument. No wiggle room. No forgetting that my mother died in her 75th year, when she was about nine months older than I am today.

A lot of people die at my age and it's not much of a surprise when they do. Even so, I am willing to bet that a lot of them felt as I do today – healthy, focused, curious, engaged - with no reason to think they would be dead tomorrow.

But always a certain number are. They get hit by a car, succumb to a terrible diagnosis or just quietly die in their sleep for no good reason except they're old.

Caught between being fascinated observing my body and my mind as they gradually accumulate the changes of old age and ignoring it all, I play a game with myself: Be careful, I say. If I think too much about what can go wrong, that will bring it on. It might not happen if I ignore the idea, but I can't pretend I never think about because while I'm pretending I am thinking about it and...

Well, you see how it goes. The human mind is a wonder to behold in the way it/we can confuse, obfuscate and bemuse ourselves.

I read somewhere that the body starts to seriously fall apart after age 75. However healthy anyone was before that birthday, it will change for the worse from that point forward.

First one thing, then another and another. It won't be so easy, they say, from 75 on. Maybe so but I think I will wait to cross those bridges when I get to them.

Nevertheless, such a remarkable birthday as 75 requires some reflection and perhaps an adjustment in how one lives, don't you think. It feels like a good time to make some changes in how I spend my time, to choose more carefully, more wisely, maybe, than I have in the past.

Doing so would definitely be something new for me.

Although not in much detail, I do recall deliberately deciding, one day in my early twenties, that because I had no idea what to do with my life, I would just follow along where the wind blew me and see what happened.

And mostly that's what I've done these 50-odd years since then with a few important exceptions of opting out rather than opting in.

No children because I knew raising them would take more effort than I was interested in devoting to it. Parents always tell me the time and sacrifice was worth it. I don't believe that is so for everyone and I made the right decision for me (and for those unborn kids, too, I'm pretty sure).

When I left my husband, it was to save my soul. I didn't know who I was any longer and I believe that if I had stayed, I would have disappeared, turned into something smaller and more invisible than I already felt.

As you can see, basically I have good self-preservation instincts but that's not particularly useful in deciding how to live a good or wise or just life which seems to concern me on this birthday.

My home holds an extensive library on the subject of ageing, quite a lot of which are individual takes in varying degrees of wisdom on growing old.

From antiquity there are Epicurus, Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, more recently Montaigne and others. Then there are my contemporaries and near contemporaries – Simone de Beauvoir, Donald Murray, Helen Nearing, Penelope Lively, Ram Dass, Virginia Ironside, Judith Viorst, Helen Small, Wilhelm Schmid, Carolyn Heilbrun, even Dr. Seuss and others I wish I could invite to dinner.

What most of them have done in regard to the topic is pay attention to the details of their personal journey into this “other country” of old age then make educated guesses on how those observations might apply to the universal condition of humankind.

I've been waiting a long time but finally, I think, I may be old enough for this course of action.

Similarly to the negative choices of not having children and ending my marriage, I backed into writing about ageing and making it my work for the past 20 years.

Before beginning this open-ended study, my career allowed me to be a generalist – report on cancer one day, a movie star the next, fashion, cooking, finance, politics, disasters, book authors and hundreds more. I loved it.

Nothing in my background would have led me to believe I would stick with one subject, still fascinated with how much there is to know about it, for 20 years.

But here I am, ready I believe to take a page from the books of those philosophers, thinkers and writers who have taught me so much and trust my own experience as I try to clarify and untangle in these pages “what it's really like to get old.”

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf wrote:

”The compensation of growing old is that the passions remain as strong as ever, but one has gained – at last! - the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence – the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it round, slowly in the light.”


Very well said, Ronni, as usual. I don't think you're very old, though, because I am old enough to have been your babysitter. Wait until you are 90, as I've just turned. Those fifteen years in between us are filled with much of what you've written about this morning, only increasingly more so. I was doing just lovely physically until I woke up one morning with one bad knee, which I now have to favor. But I'm grateful because it could be worse. But the old brain keeps clicking along as I'm sure yours will for many years more. Happy Birthday!

Oh, Ronni, what a fabulous post and quote from Ms. Woolf. You have been an inspiration to all of us over the last 20 years. I can hardly believe that I have been reading your blog for well on 13-14 years (if my memory serves right). Life of an elder is best if there are a few intrepid ones leading the way. Thank you for all that intellectual zest and heart-felt passion. May this year be blessed with happiness and continual health.

The passions don't always stay as strong as ever. I found myself fading away until it was discovered that I had no vitamin D in me. I'm a little perkier these days. Creativity does return.

Happy birthday Ronni. It's a great number and also just a number. I will get there next March and I intend to have a little party. I just want to tell you how much I look forward to your thought provoking posts and have been for longer than I can recall. May you live long and prosper and post, selfishly as much for me as yourself. ;-)

75 is the year I assume I will finally be old too. So I've got 10 years to go. Better make the most of them.

I better check on my vitamin D. My doctor did say it was low. Thanks Mage.

But Ronni you don't seem old. You're certainly write more than I do.

When I read you were 75, I thought, "her diamond anniversary," and so it is. You deserve diamonds, though my guess is that you don't want them any more than I do.

When I was approaching 75 -- I'm 76 and a half now -- I started writing a novel. I'd been a professional writer all my life, at newspapers, magazines and then at several corporations as an executive speechwriter, but always itched to try fiction. It's made the most amazing difference in how I feel when I wake up in the morning. So many new skills to learn. I love it.

By the way, I ended my first marriage to save my soul, too, and I don't think it was a negative move. Painful, yes, but necessary. As for that old "age is just a number," I don't know what that means. Age is what it is.

Happy late birthday, Ronni. For quite a few years I have been warning aging friends of what I learned from Dr. Phil (back before he turned into Jerry Springer and lost me)--that the slope gets rapidly steeper in your seventies. My message to them is, therefore, to do it now before it gets harder. Nobody warned ME that the eighties really separates the women from the girls--so to speak. Although I am still active at 83, by most older peoples' terms--writing, coaching same, taking thousand of photos that I share on Facebook, and even going back to singing publicly after a 15-year hiatus--it gets harder by the day, physically and emotionally. I deal with severe chronic pain, the worst in the morning upon arising, and every day I say "I can't DO this"---BUT I DO. I climb the same damn mountain every morning. Old age, I don't like you much--but it IS better than the alternative.
SO it has to be with the help of my new Cadillac of a walker, and requires lots of help from lots of people, at least I'M STILL HERE! And loving my Amber kitty, my family and many friends who enable my semi-independence, and the gift of several years' survival beyond the statistics for my particular health issues.

Happy Birthday Ronnie!

Oh, I laughed reading your post this morning for a couple reasons. You are such an interesting writer in part, because you are truthful, writer. I'd add you to the list of people I'd like to have lunch with.

Recently I had an unexpected bleeding ulcer due to medication I take. I asked the belly doc, "why now?" He who is in his late 60s, responded "Because you are old." My young cardiologist told me as we laughed about belly doc, said, "I've had said wear and tear."

My father's family all died in their early 60's. He had a terrible few years after 65, sure he was living his last years. My mother died when she was 85 or so from ravages of Parkinson's. She was sure Dad couldn't live a "good life" without her. He lived alone and took to baking cookies then moved to assisted living to be near my brother. He was 97 when he died, 10 years after Mother.

The morning Brain Pickings read is a review of "In Praise of Missing Out: Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips on the Paradoxical Value of Our Unlived Lives." If you haven't read it I"m guessing you'll enjoy it.

Thanks for sticking with your chosen topic.
Truly Yours, Marian

this “other country” of old age

I like that expression. It encompasses quite a bit

As always, life is about the choices you make. I chose to get metal knees, a sound amplifiers for my ears, dental implants, and a pacemaker for my heart. Although I creak, hesitate, palpitate, sputter, and stumble, I still enjoy each day. As they say, you just put one foot in front of the other (and when your feet hurt, see a podiatrist).

Happy birthday Ronni! Always a pleasure to read your blog. As a older adult in training (thank you for sharing Ashton Applewhite with me too), I read in awe and wonder of your trailblazing ways! May I live with as much passion and focus as you do. That is my gift to you.

Another "Best Wishes" on your 75th birth anniversary! So glad that you continue to grace
all of us with your almost daily presence!

As one who is currently enjoying my 85th year, doing whatever I choose to do and being all that I am daily, I am looking forward to living as long and as well as my Mom, who reached 103 years.

Knowing that you and I both attended Tamalpias High School, ten years apart, always takes me back to those great years in lovely Marin County, CA. Had we been there at the
same time I feel sure we would have been great friends during those years as well as now.
You might well have inspired me to continue writing and I might have encouraged you to
play music and sing! Who knows what fun we may have enjoyed together!

Thanks so much for being yourself and gracing so many lives with your wonderful talents!
Keep on Keepin on my friend!!!!!

We had three residents pass away here at the ALF last week. And, let me tell you, that gets your attention, especially when you have just turned 70 and the dead folks were not much older than you are.
Yes, 75 is a milestone of sorts, but I always believed that 70 was a bigger blow to my psyche.
After all, even when you are 69, you can still tell everyone "I'm only in my 60's." But, when you are 70, 71 0r 79, you are nowl in your 70's. And, to me, 70 has always been the age that I considered people to be old.
It's been 6 months since I attained that magic number, and the thrill of it all has not completely worn off. Maybe I'll get used to it when I (god willing) turn 75.

Another birthday wish and just a quick comment from someone who is
82 and thoroughly enjoys your honest, informative and creative writing.
Thanks to you and wishes for good health and happiness for your 75th!

I am just a year and a half behind you, Ronni. You navigate the shoals of aging for me every single day. Happy diamond birthday, friend.

I don't have much to add to Ronni's wisdom and the knowledgeable comments already posted. Although I'm absent Lyn B.'s writing, photography and vocal chops, I definitely agree with her about the 70s being a steeper slope physically, especially the late 70s. Pain is SO not fun. I was charging along pretty much as I always had until the end of 2014, when I was "involuntarily retired" from my job of nearly 40 years. I turned 78 a few days later. It has not been an easy transition out of the workforce after 57 years in it, and part of it may be that I now have more time to contemplate what hurts and what is going wrong physically (or might).

However, my wonderful husband is 86, and we're both more or less healthy for where we are in life, especially considering the fact that we didn't treat our bodies very well in our youth. I'm consistently amazed by people in their late 80s and 90s who enjoy good physical and mental health. People age very differently for a lot of reasons, and as others have observed about old age, "it is what it is". I've never been a fan of longevity solely for longevity's sake, and that hasn't changed. Quality of life is way up there for me!

Happy late birthday, Ronni! You are almost exactly a year younger than I am. I turn 76 next week. Being the age I am is, for the moment, more of a psychological than a physical blow. I try not to wait for the shoe to drop. I asked my doctor recently why I no longer must have mammograms at 75. He (he's always direct. I love that about him and, alas, he's about to retire) said because you probably have five to eight years more. That set me back on my heels!

I sometimes fight a sense of futility, why do this or that because I don't have The Future. And of course that's true, but that is not what this is about. I'm getting better at living in the present. While less energetic than I have been, I'm otherwise in very good health and have taken up serious exercise in order to stay that way as long as possible.

But I'm sure glad I don't have to go to a job.

Again, happy birthday. I'm counting on you to have many more.


So sorry I missed wishing you a Happy Birthday! yesterday. (I hate being late for anything.) Here's hoping the coming year will bring you a few laughs, very few tears, and splendid good health. You know your readers have your back and, should you ever need anything, just let us know and we'll jump right in.

Hugs and kisses,


I didn't give much thought about old age until it crept up on me. When that happened I just started adjusting to the changes in my lifestyle as they occurred.

I don't know what the future holds for me (other than the obvious fact that I will die one of these days), but if the past ten years are any yardstick I know it isn't going to get better. When I no longer wake up grateful for another day I will know it's time to depart this life.

Even though my body continues to deteriorate I still find enough in my life to make me happy and I try to focus on that.

I let the past slide into outer space a few years ago and I really don't want to make plans for the future as it may not be there for me. I take each day as it unfolds and live in the present.

(Spoiler alert. I can still change my mind and attitude, so just take my ramblings with a grain of salt.) ;-)

Belated happy birthday! I've been reading your blog for at least ten years, and I'm just about ten years behind you. I am looking forward to qualifying for Medicare in December, and boy, what a milestone. It's been a struggle to keep insurance as a widow of ten years.

Your blog has been a great resource. And the topics you discuss (always well researched) are incredibly helpful to me, and many others too. Keep on keeping on. My paternal grandmother lived to 92, so one never knows what the future holds.

Ronni, Don't think of yourself as old. For myself, 'OLD' is always 10 years older than I am, so since my chronological age is 70, 80 is 'old' in my book.

My best friend turned 75 in January; she died in February--in an auto accident, so 'old age' didn't kill her; her own lousy driving did it.

My mother will be 91 tomorrow, April 9. I sent her this a while ago:

Today, Dear Lord, I'm 90, and so much I haven't done;
I hope, Dear Lord, you'll let me live until I'm 91!

But then, if I haven't finished all that I want to do,
would you please let me stay a while until I'm 92?

So many places I want to go, so very much yet to see,
do you think you could manage to make it 93?

The world is changing very fast, there is so much in store,
I'd like it very much to live until I'm 94.

And if by then I'm still alive,
I'd like to stay until 95.

Many planes will be in the air, so I'd really like to stick
and see what happens in the world when I am 96.

I know, Dear Lord, it's much to ask, and it must be nice in Heaven,
but really, Lord, I would like to stay until I'm 97.

I know by then I'll be so slow, and sometimes very late,
but it would be pleasant to be around when I'm 98.

I will have seen so many things and have had such wonderful times,
I'm sure that I'll be willing to leave when I'm 99!!

(Author unknown).

So, enjoy being 75 - you still aren't OLD!!!!

"I let the past slide into outer space a few years ago"...

Thanks Darlene, I love that! I think I'll do the same...

Happy Belated Birthday, Ronni - I am 76 and for the past year people often offer to help me unload my shopping cart, just passersby, not even staff, and one man driving past stopped to ask if I was OK when closing my sliding gate by hand after I drove my car out of the driveway. This makes me think that I must look OLD. I do not feel like I look old but I guess I do, plus I know my gait is rather stiff from my arthritis.

My right hand and shoulder is still sore from re-potting a large ficus bonsai two days ago that was root bound. I cannot do as much gardening as I used to but I still manage to do the things I HAVE to take care of. My darling husband is not a gardener, and I do notice that he needs much more time to complete any project he starts.

Exercise is the best way to keep dementia away and to stay as healthy as possible so I will continue to be active. I will be visiting Pasadena for 3 days with 2 high school friends where we will visit 2 museums and see a play this weekend. I must keep reminding myself that It's a good life and to enjoy everyday.

Great piece, also great comments! I noticed a shift after I turned 70. I'm going to be 79 this August. And I expect I will notice gradual deterioration all along the way now. I'm definitely not as quick or energetic as I used to be. But--and this is a huge but--I still have my heels dug in about exercise. I don't defend it--it's silly of me. And now that my back is beginning to hurt more when I play the piano, I may really find the motivation to get more active.

I do think that people age at very different rates, depending on everything from genes to activity levels, history, diet, etc. I expect to be around for at least ten more years, and I guess I need to really start thinking about the condition in which I want to do that.

One thought about Virginia Woolf--my passions are NOT as unmanageable as they used to be, but again, I think that's a largely individual matter. Another thought about Woolf--when she loaded her pockets with those stones and walked into the river, she was . . . 59. So, really, she didn't know anything about true old age.

BTW, Ronni, I imagine that your sun in Aries can't hurt in the energy department! Many happy returns!

As I write this, I am within half and hour of leaving 78 behind me.

It was not when I turned 75, but more like 77 I think, when I found I had been trying not to think about the possible reasons why I might die any day, like other people our age, as you mention in this great article. (Although I would be hard-pressed to think of an article you've written that wasn't great.) Along with whatever wisdom - as well as straight knowledge - I had by then absorbed from your writing (and Saul's before you), my reading, discussing with friends, and personal experiences led me to think of myself as having entered the 4th quarter of my life. Some people found this phrase gruesome. I myself, on the cusp of 79 (9 more minutes), find it exhilarating. The accumulated 75 years of living that went before are now the matrix for a new appreciation of a purpose to my life I never quite expected to have. I hope to live a long time yet, but if I do not I am too busy being a real me I have only recently come to know to worry about it.
And i am very aware that many if not most people on this planet are not as "lucky" as I, with a part-time job at the child day care center where I have taught for 30 years, an apartment in Section 8 Senior housing that makes my combined work and Social Security income of $26000/year livable even on Long Island NY, a daughter who is my friend as well as a help in time of need, and volunteer and church activities that feed my soul every day.
Thank you for your part in all this Ronnie.

Thanks for this Ronni and belated happy birthday.

A few items I've noted from my own friends who are older (I am 72), 78 seems to have an enfeebling all of its own and minor physical challenges become major. 78 also seems to be the age where mortality risk ceases and friends trudge on to 80 and over.

I've lost so very many friends in their fifties and sixties. A few in the past couple of years who had barely cracked 70.

Each day is precious and I thank you for the twenty years of this blog which has inspired and restored me so many times.


Ronni, Happy Belated Birthday! I loved this post. Thank you and Thank you for all the many other posts I've read that you've written since I started reading this blog. It was the first blog I'd ever read all those years ago. Just keep on keeping on...

Excellent post and I love the quote. I will be 76 in October. My advice is to keep your strength by any means possible. Walk, go to the gym, don't sit too much - it all helps.

Thank you for this post, and for so many that preceded it. Happy Birthday! And we only have happy ones if we appreciate what we have, as you seem to.

Any time I feel a bit low, or rankle at various situations, I think of beloved friends who would have given anything to still be here. And I recall the words of Warren Zevon, shortly before his death: "Enjoy every sandwich."

Happy Belated Birthday! I too so enjoy your blog. Ive gone back to the archives and read them all. So much informative well written posts and the comments are fabulous. I'm 69 and my struggle in this aging process is finding contentment for a few more years after being a widow for three years now. Many more Birthdays, Ronni and thanks for all you do.

In the sixties, I never thought I too would be elderly. I am now 67 and have taken a similar road. Seventy-five is certainly a reflective milestone, but so is 65. We're there. I spend some time looking backwards, but mostly enjoy each day with the freedom and independence I have developed. I did not have children either and was married 3 times. Other siblings more than made up for me. Actually, the physical restrictions bug me the most. My mind finds new excitement each day in more ways than I ever did as a youngster. So, Ronnie, celebrate the freedom you have earned!

Sixty six and still moving down the road. I think.
I love, love, love that I found your blog so many years ago - because of - Donald M. Murray.
Happy Birthday!
You encourage me to keep up the good fight!

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