getting old

I turn 60 this year, and I have decided to give myself the year-long birthday present of saying whatever I think.

Many things about being old are less than pleasant. I have certain aches and pains in my joints, and after a long plane ride I have to unfold myself like a stiff, squeaky card table. I am somewhat fatter than I used to be, which injures my vanity. My face is wrinkly in spots. At times I have the sense that my stamina for work is ebbing somewhat.

But you know the biggest thing that bugs me about getting old? When I hear this phrase on TV and elsewhere: “Old age is a state of mind.” As if, by getting old, you are weak-minded in some way. Please. Getting old is something that happens to you, not an indication of a lack of will.

I’ve also heard, “You have to get older, but you don’t have to get old.” I’m sorry, but yes you do. Unless you die, that is. If you die you don’t have to get old.

And another thing. Occasionally I have been required to remind people for various reasons that I am getting old.They will often reply, “Oh, now, don’t say that!” But why not say that? I’m not criticizing myself. I’m not sad about it. I’m just making an observation, or warning people of certain attendant limitations. Getting old could be interesting if people would stop making it sound like it’s a failure on my part, or something that shouldn’t be discussed in polite company.

In fact, I find many things to love about getting old. It took me all these years to stop caring what people think about me, but I finally very much have. It is wondrously freeing. I have learned how strangely similar we all are – knowing this means I am never lonely in the world. I love having an old husband. He has mellowed and is more nurturing and less posturing, possibly because his testosterone levels have lowered. Testosterone may be responsible for much of the suffering in the world. I must acknowledge that estrogen caused much of my suffering in my younger years. How lovely never to have PMS or all of the hormonal havoc of the childbearing years, especially since my childbearing years were somewhat excessive. Now I am always in my right mind. Furthermore, I have learned that it is more gratifying to have earned respect for your work than to be admired for one’s taut skin.

Okay, occasionally I have the distressing realization that life has silenced me in some way, that I don’t have as much to say anymore because I am humbled by all I realize I will never know, by all the suffering in the world I will never ease, by the injustice I will never correct. But hey, that’s why God invented young people, right?

I recommend getting old. To be sixty years old is nothing short of a miracle, as far as I’m concerned. When I tell people I’m sixty this year, I expect them to say, How fortunate you are! I do not need them to pretend that age is a state of mind. It is a state of blessedness.

And what does all this have to do with writing? Why, not a thing.

Happy birthday to me!


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12 responses to “getting old

  1. Happy birthday, Martine! (I, for one, will love hearing whatever is on your mind.:-)

  2. Yes indeed, happy birthday, Martine! I completely agree with you and look forward to hearing more of your thoughts–whether they have anything to do with writing or not.

  3. Thank you for this, and Happy Birthday!!

  4. lisa doan

    Happy Birthday dear Martine! I hope you will give yourself the present of saying what you think for more than just a year. I like to look for the comedic side effects of getting older. Recently, I drove my jeep by a kid in the exact same jeep and our eyes met and I thought, “Hahahahaha! I have just RUINED that kid’s car for him.”

  5. Holly Huckeba

    Thank you for this lovely and brave essay! You’ve expressed ideas that I, too, have had about aging, but didn’t feel empowered to speak aloud or put into print. I would like to add that I think the corollary of having less to say as we age, is that there are fewer of us to write about what can only be expressed by the aged.

    That is simply lots to write about.

  6. swtomp

    Love this!

    Happy Birthday – and enjoy each day.

  7. Anne Bowen

    Thank you, Martine, for your wisdom which I’m realizing more and more does come with age. Having just turned sixty myself, I’m becoming aware of how much I truly don’t know. It’s humbling but in a good way. And, you are a beautiful sixty, I must say. Happy Birthday! I’m looking forward to another VCFA residency with you.

  8. Happy birthday/-week/-month/-year, Martine. Keep the celebrations going all year round. Having the will to tell the truth as we see it have everything to do with writing because writing has everything to do with our deepest selves. Love this post!

  9. Martine! Happy Birthday. I turned thirty this year, so I’m still too young to know anything, but perhaps almost old enough to know that I don’t know anything. Progress, no? Also, I listened to your graduation speech and it was really lovely. So thank you. I think you’re one of the wisest people I’ve met.

  10. Lovely Martine, lovely post. I am older than you and wouldn’t go back if I could–though the aches, pains, and memory loss aren’t my favorite thing. We are indeed lucky to be here and to be with each other. And I totally agree about testosterone (have said this myself!) and estrogen. Pre-puberty, we are wild young girls. Post-menopause, ditto.

  11. Dear Martine, I am sitting here and singing you a little birthday song, sort of like Frances the Badger in the Russell Hoban tales. Can you hear it?

    Happy Birthday to you
    Happy Birthday to you
    You arrrrrre very wise, Martine,
    and beautiful, too.
    May you have many more!

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