Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Today I Am Seventy

Today I am seventy. I’m not sure I know what that means. Knowing of this birthday people have commented, “You don’t look seventy.” But what does seventy look like? What is it supposed to look like? I have no idea.

If you were to ask me what it feels like to be seventy, it depends on when you ask. Some days I think I have as much energy as I had when I was thirty-five; other days I am tired from the moment I wake up and remain tired for the day. Also, I take more naps in the afternoon than I used to. However, except for living with emphysema, I am in excellent health, but I take more pills to maintain that health than I used to, and I’m losing most of my teeth.

Today I am seventy, but I haven’t done anything in particular to reach this age. I think of all the people I’ve known who deserved to reach such a day in their lives and are dead. I read an obituary recently of a woman who never smoked and died of lung cancer at age 43. I smoked for 32 years, (stopping in 1988), and here I am, age 70. My wife believes that, at birth, each of us is given a certain number of breaths, and once we reach that preordained number, we die. This makes more sense than believing that I did something to merit reaching my 70th birthday. I know better. But I am grateful that I have reached this age. It is the best time of my life.

I would not want to be young again. I look at the young, and I know what they face -- defining their lives, negotiating the perils of marriage(s), raising children, the deaths of friends, relatives and parents, facing the prospect of not fulfilling their dreams and living with the cold knowledge of failure. One of the joys of being seventy is knowing that I have been through those stages of life -- and survived. However, I am not unmindful of the fact that I have been successful far beyond anything I could have imagined. For that I am deeply grateful.

And yet, when I look back, there is so much I regret. My painful shyness stopped me from having relationships with people I met and could have known better, perhaps - Hannah Arendt, Richard Avedon, W. Eugene Smith, and many others. And yet, who knows? Perhaps that shyness protected me. Other regrets have to do with people I hurt, some unintentionally, others with malice aforethought. I regret, also, that I was not a better parent, or a better caretaker of my mother during the last decade of her life. I can say that I did my best, but, sometimes, one’s best is not good enough. That’s life, but it is not a justification. It is a pain one lives with when one is seventy.

I am going to celebrate this day very quietly. Being a lover of wine I bought a 1998 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape recommended by my wine seller. It will accompany a rack of lamb from Dean & DeLucca. My wife will cook the lamb; I will uncork the bottle of wine, and the two of us will have a quiet meal of complex and wondrous flavors.

This birthday is a time to experience the wonder of having lived this many years. It is a time to look back. For the first time, I am going to read the more than forty books I have published since 1968. This is also a time to express gratitude to those people who have been important in my life over these years, and I will be telling them so in various ways throughout this year.

With great anticipation I look forward to becoming eighty. Just as I could not have imagined the awe of this day, I really cannot imagine the awe of that one.

That is how it should be.

1 comment:

Karan Rajpal said...

Mr. Lester,

wishing you a very happy birthday.

Each passing year can also be looked upon as a fresh departure. And beyond looking back, there's a lot to look forward to, as well.

Here's raising a toast to you, all the way in India!