New Year’s Eve from my roof terrace, I watched fireworks from around the vicinity. Over the ugly roof tops, I can see the foothills of the southern part of the island, and El Teide rising in their midst, and every town and village on those hillsides was celebrating in a riot of fire and color, the cracks, whizzes and booms echoing from hill to hill.
New Year’s morning I stepped out on the terrace and into a crisp-ish and sunny morning. The sunrise was still painting the horizon rosy – I can see the ocean if I turn the other way and lean over – and a single vapor trail from a passing plane crossed the clear sky, the almost new moon looked as if it was balancing on it ….I took it as a sign (yep, did watch Sleepless in Seattle over the holiday season) and a good one for the coming year. The new moon was new beginnings, and the vapor trail – well, what could it be but travel?
Officially, I am now one year from retirement, but, in a far more important sense, that’s a word I don’t understand. I despise the entire concept. Change of direction, yes, retirement no! New doors are opening and new ventures and adventures beckoning, and I find the world at least as, if not more, exciting than ever. What I need now is a plan (yes, I watched “The A Team” too). I recognize that, as Julia Roberts famously said in “Pretty Woman” “(I’ve been) a fly by the seat of your pants kind of girl.” I’ve never really planned ahead overmuch, but with finances and commitments as they are, I’m going to have to learn the art of planning.
I made my first bucket list when I was about 13. They weren’t called bucket lists then. It was just a list of things I intended to do when I grew up. I remember that there was a long, long list of countries I wanted to visit, and books I wanted to read. Also, I couldn’t swim back then so that was on the list, that was because it was kind of advisable because learning to sail was on there too. I don’t remember the rest, although I have no doubt that writing a best seller was on it, and I remember sitting with a notebook by my grandparents open fire and dreaming and writing it…..the list, that is, not the bestseller! Wish I’d kept it, so I’d know how much I achieved compared to what I wanted to do. I did learn to swim but not to sail.
Don’t worry, I don’t intend to now list all the items on my current bucket list, but I’m sure they will be mentioned here when they happen. Note the positive “when they happen”, that’s half of the battle. This year, for me, will be more about the “how to” rather than the “what”. I totally fail to understand the falling aside of curiosity and ambition which some (the majority?) of people seem to experience when they get to “my age”. This attitude that “I’ve done it all, seen it all, now I’m going to vegetate” appalls me. It becomes an ironclad mind-set so far as I can see. They lose enthusiasm for life, and become very arrogant, as if age alone gives one the right to wisdom. Someone please sock me with a wet sponge if I ever sound like that! Sure, experience can bring wisdom (if you learn from it, of course), but I know plenty of empty-headed mature people, that’s for sure.
I have, now I come to think of it, also known a fair few people who, though not the necessarily the brightest in the class, have been successful in their ways because of a positive attitude, and a belief in themself. That seems to be something else which people allow to melt away with age. “I can’t do that at my age”, “Oh, I’m too old for that” or the dreaded “Having a senior moment” – phrases which send chills down my spine!
Sure, one has to accept a certain lessening of physical capacity as one gets older, but to accept that pot bellies and shortness of breath are inevitable consequences of aging is ridiculous. When I was 59 I took a job at an office which was at the top of a flight of steps. The first few days working there I admit to a bit of heavy breathing when I pushed open the office door. It disgusted me. I’m no way as fit as I should/could be, but it took me a couple of weeks to be able to run up those stairs – I still do it just to make sure I can when I’m in the vicinity these days. In the months I worked there I was even more disgusted by the number of people who would come in saying, specifically, “Those stairs will be the death of me”. WRONG! It’s your lifestyle which will be death of you! The smoking. The overeating. The wrong attitude. Our skin is going to wrinkle to some extent or other, and our muscles weaken, but there is no earthly reason that it should happen to the extent that it does. Why do people lose so much self-esteem along with age?
Perhaps even more depressing than the physical is the mental atrophy, the sense that, once “retired”, one’s life is on the sidelines. As the supreme example of positivity, being able to reinvent oneself according to circumstances and age, and proof that one can ACHIEVE at any age, I offer you Leni Reifenstahl. Now, you may well be wary of that name because of her association with Hitler, but there is no denying her talent in the movies she made for him. Very briefly, she had a career as a movie star before going on to directing; when it seemed that she was doomed to failure on account of her past she took herself off to Africa to live in remote places and earned herself a reputation as an extraordinary still photographer; in her 70s, when she was no longer capable of clambering around landscapes she learned to dive and took up underwater photography, to yet more accolades – she claimed that being weightless in the water brought back her youth, but she certainly never, ever lost her zest for life and her desire to DO.
If you want proof that there is life after 60 I, also, offer you the following: Nancy Pelosi, Cher, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Nelson Mandela (who was already in his 70s when released from prison), Barbara Walters, Jimmy Carter, Betty White, Bruce Tulloh and Margaret Thatcher (who had no problem in reinventing herself at 54 when she became PM and served until she was well over 60). I’m not suggesting that you, or I, would want to emulate the plastic surgery, the sacrifices or other aspects of the lifestyles of some of these people necessarily, but they are all examples of “senior citizens” who continued, and in most cases are continuing, with their positive thinking on life.
We’re just over a week into 2011, and there has been way too much navel gazing all around I think. All I’ll say is this: there are places to see, things to do, books to read, music to hear, movies and plays to see, new foods and drinks to try, new people to meet, old friends to meet up with and all sorts of new experiences to have…..and I’m ready!!
And from my azotea, even on a night when the sunset isn’t so spectacular, it’s still a pretty sight.