My 80th Birthday
The other day, as I was celebrating the birthday of an old friend, and reflecting on my recent 80th birthday, I was thinking about my life at the start of each decade, and it was an interesting journey.
As I mentally walked through my life, I could see my development and the changes I made. I was also aware of the struggles I was experiencing at the start of each decade, and I could see how they affected me and how I resolved them.
The most startling observation I made was that my life really started being a positive experience after I met my wife in 1992. Up to that point, it seemed to be a fruitless struggle just to get from one day to the other. Margaret Mitchell famously said, “Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”
I am living proof of the veracity of that statement. When I met my wife at the start of my 5th decade on this planet, everything changed, and my life ceased having so much turmoil. I can say that not for one moment of my life, since our relationship started, have I not felt loved by her. From the very beginning she made me feel special, and that was something I wasn’t used to. I think I was unaware of how much depth a caring person could add to my life.
So, here I sit, starting my 8th decade and browsing around in the many rooms of my mind, peeping in to see what was happening during time long past, finding joy in some, and sadness in others, hoping I have been a positive influence on those I met along the way, knowing that you are in one of those “happy” rooms.
Possibly, there are people that think of me negatively, but that comes with life. I have tried to keep that to a bare minimum. I believe there are only a few, but you can never be sure of how someone perceives your actions. As Summer stares at us, letting us know that hot, sunny days, and hurricanes are here, we can now get out and socialize with our friends and neighbors, take trips that were set aside during the pandemic, and just enjoy life. As Helen Keller so wisely said, “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, then alone in the light”.
⌘ Rumi (Persian poet born 1207) said, “Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” I believe that and I want to use it in my life. Some say that gratefulness can increase our sense of happiness, decrease our perception of pain and depression, and increase our appreciation of the accomplishments of others.
I never realized that gratitude could be so impactful in my life. Surely, it wonders in and out of all our lives, but it is fleeting and never stays long. It now appears that it should be a part of our being and influence us daily. So, I have developed a plan to ensure that it stays with me: write or make mental notes (bad idea) of the things I am grateful for, and nothing should be too small to be on that list. I also think I should start writing thank-you notes for kindness’ shown to me by others. I know, it seems like a lot of effort, but on closer examination it’s not, and I would feel better knowing that I expressed my gratefulness in ways other than words, which can flow so effortlessly.
How often do we say, “I love you”, or “thank you”, without putting in the effort to really showing it? I’ll be the first to raise my hand. We recently spent four nights with my cousin Harold & his wife Willis back in my hometown. I’m gonna sit down and write them a letter, expressing our gratitude for their kindness. Sure, we expressed our gratitude before we left, but I need to take the extra step of writing it down and sending it to them. No, I don’t think an email suffices, that’s so easily done, requiring very little effort. I’m gonna write a note to those fine people, put a stamp on it and put it in the mail. Then, they will know that we really mean it! Or maybe they know anyway and I’m just being paranoid 😊. I’m counting on what Rumi said about wearing gratitude like a cloak.
⌘ I recently ran across an old pair of my eyeglasses that were worn by me about five years ago. They differ totally from what I wear, being gold rimmed versus black rims today. I gently placed them on my face and could tell they were close to the strength of my current glasses, so I wore them to see if anyone would detect the change. A couple of days went by and no one noticed. I’m a little confused, these look nothing like what I normally wear and they’re a little old-fashioned (circa 2009), yet no one has noticed. Slowly, it’s sinking in that all the extra time and money used in selecting just the right frames is not money well spent. All the wasted time in front of the optometrist’s mirror, trying on countless frames, and wondering which one looks the best. Kinda wish I hadn’t done that now. After nine days into the experiment, someone finally noticed, and I was so relieved.
So, what lesson have I learned from this brief experiment? Well, that other people aren’t as aware of what I wear as I think, and maybe I’m not as important as I want to be? There’s a good possibility that if someone used that experiment on me, I would fail as well. I’ll probably never try that again, it’s so disappointing to find out that few of us notice such things. I’m refusing to travel down the road where only fools and horses survive.
Mary Oliver said, “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Turns out, I’m not the only one that needs to pay attention 😊.
⌘ My wife and I sold our beautiful home and moved into a retirement community on April 24th, and we are slowly getting used to our new place. It is much smaller than we are used to, but it is a necessary change. We always knew this day would come, and as we approached the age of 80, we knew it was the right thing to do. Our goal was to be in an environment where our children wouldn’t have to look after us as old age soaked into our creaky old bones and our health declined. That’s where we are now, in a place that allows us to go from Independent Living (our cottage) to Assisted Living (they help you do things), then on to Health Care (they do everything), or the Mental Unit (dementia). They furnish us one meal daily, usually dinner in the dining room, and send someone to clean our cottage every two weeks. Everyone here appears to be at least 70 and a lot of them are using walkers & wheelchairs. We are fighting the idea that will happen to us, but no one knows what lies in store, so we just take it one day at a time. The one thing you discover is that old folks are nice, we have yet to meet anyone that’s not. I think it’s because at our age, most of our friends have transitioned to the other side and we need replacements 😊. We have met some extraordinary people, and that has made our transition to the retirement community much easier.
So, what’s it like to make your final move, the one you make before “buying the farm”? Well, it’s kinda sad, but inevitable. We’re hoping for at least ten more years of good health, but you never know. We make daily exercise plans to keep everything working, try to eat right and get enough sleep, and see how it all turns out. We can still make trips to visit those we love, and travel for entertainment, but we can see far enough down that road to see the sign that says, “Dead End”. Hopefully, that’s when our family picks up the slack and comes to visit us 😊. As Frank Bruni said, “It’s all about aging, writ vivid and large.”
A few weeks ago, while we were back home visiting, we stopped, as we always do, at the cemetery my mother and father are in, as well as a lot of my family. They are in a crypt about 10 feet up, and as I stood there talking to them, I made the comment as I prepared to leave that I would probably join them before too much longer. As I walked away with tears in my eyes, I heard mom’s voice saying, “You’ve got longer than you think!” Boy, do I hope she’s right!
Judy Malcolm Barr says:
Great writing, Tommy Joe! Thanks for jogging my memories and helping me appreciate my blessings. Take care and enjoy life!
Well this post made me cry. Love you.
Frank Shortt says:
He Tommy, I am not far behind you. I will be 79 in July. I can only say one thing for sure: God has always blessed all my efforts to improve myself, spiritually and physically!
I am glad that you have had such a great life overall. Keep on moving as movement is what
greases the joints and keeps the muscles supple.
Dale Divine says:
Hey TJ. Great missive.
I’m glad you and Jerilyn are transitioning into your new home. I think the older generations have a much easier time making new friends. Probably just the way our generations were brought up.
I remember when you and Jerilyn got together. I could tell then that she was making a positive influence on your life.
I for one have been happy that you were in my life. I feel blessed being in one of your “happy rooms”.
And I had a tear in my eye when you were talking to your mom and dad.
I will be doing that later this month when I’m in Kentucky visiting my older brother.
Debby Kiehner says:
You guys have much longer than you think. Of course, your loving family will be there. I know I will!