It was my birthday last Friday and so I suppose some reflections on the view from 72 are in order.
Seventy-two is a funny age because I don’t think I ever had any expectations for it. After all, it’s not a milestone year like all the years that begin new decades.
When I was in my late twenties, I thought getting old happened when you were in your fifties. I wrote this about a visit to my parents home:
“They’ve been grandparents for almost 2 years now. Grandparents twice over, that is, and a third expected momentarily. As I stepped through the doorway, I was met by a heavy-sweet menagerie of home-cooked aromas. Outside, it was a crisp spring afternoon; inside it was a trifle too warm. They had both mellowed in recent years, but just now, for the first time, I felt as though I were entering a grandparents’ home. They’re growing old.”
I was 22 and they were 52 and 53.
Back then, I thought 68 was synonymous with decrepitude. That was because elderly friends of my mother had lived with us for a while when I was 10 and the wrinkled husband, who was 68, spoke and moved slowly and only with a great deal of effort. I was delighted to have this image shattered when I sprinted past 68 four years ago.
From my current vantage point, though, it seems like all of us in our 70s are just middle aged. When a celebrity from our cohort dies, I think “Too young” or “Too soon.” When David Crosby died last week at 81, though, I didn’t react that way. He had lived a long and impactful life. I was sad to learn of his passing, but it seemed ok.
I am, nonetheless, growing old. I see it in the wrinkled skin on the back of my hands. I feel it in my bones. I can document it with the heart rate monitor on the treadmill.
A few days after I turned 50, I found myself jogging in a park near my home in Lexington, North Carolina. For reasons long lost to me, I set a goal of running two miles (at any pace) every year until I was 80. At the time (2001), it seemed like a ridiculously impossible challenge. With each passing year, though, it has started to seem more do-able.
It’s now an annual tradition for me to take up the challenge right after each birthday. For many years it was no problem, but this year was different. I don’t know if it was because I’m getting older or the after-effects of COVID or just being out of shape or a combination of all of the above, but this year I struggled.
Fewer than 5 years ago, I could jog the full distance at a 6 mph clip. This year, though, I knew I couldn’t set the treadmill any faster than 4 mph, which meant it would take me 30 minutes to complete the challenge.
I was already breathing hard after only ¼ mile and my pulse was up to 126. Just a year ago, my heart rate wouldn’t get up to 126 until I was 2 miles into my workout at a 4.5 mph clip.
After 15 minutes—halfway there and 1 mile into the run—my pulse was up to 136. Last year that didn’t happen until after I had gone 3 miles.
I had to really push myself to finish the challenge, with my pulse climbing to 151 at the end. That just didn’t happen last year.
So I’ve got my work cut out for me. I know I need to establish a regular workout schedule to get in shape. I’m pretty sure, though, that I won’t be able to get back to where I was a year ago, probably due largely to a long-term COVID effect.
I’m having trouble wrapping my head around that. I had been harboring fantasies of running another 5k, but now I don’t think that’s in the cards.
I don’t like this new trajectory at all. I know I should be celebrating the fact that I’m 72 and I can run 2 miles, but a sense of foreboding is preventing me from taking that victory lap.
I’ll work on it.
On a brighter note, I spent my birthday indulging myself. For breakfast, I had a bagel and lox with all the trimmings, using lox that I had made myself. It was the lox of my childhood, brined instead of the smoked salmon you get at the supermarket. At noon I had an hour-long full-body massage and then feasted on lobster for lunch. That night, Sally and I had a birthday party for 2 in the apartment, with delivery pizza, ice cream sandwiches, music from Crosby, Stills and Nash, and a “1-hit wonder” joint gifted to us by a friend.
Life at 72 is pretty freakin’ good after all!