“They told me my services were no longer desired because they want to put in a youth program as an advance way of keeping the club going. I’ll never make the mistake of being seventy again,” Casey Stengel, the famed, successful and witty manager of the New York Yankees and New York Mets from 1949 to 1965, once said.
I turned 70 yesterday, one of the last of my closest friends to do so. I understand Mr. Stengel’s humorous take on achieving seven decades of life. Fortunately no one needs or wants my services, at least not urgently so.
So, how does it feel be 70? Okay, I guess. Some thoughts readily come to mind.
Years of good health are limited. Increasing age can be constraining in terms of physical capability and stamina, as well as cognitive ability. Health problems will become more frequent and persistent. What is always present for me, however, is a strong, lifelong sense of optimism; I can’t live without it.
What bothers me the most, however, is the stark realization that perhaps I will see my grandchildren, specifically the toddlers, reach adolescence and that’s all. I probably won’t see–or at least may not understand–their growth as young adults. I wish this were not true.
If I sound morose, I beg forgiveness. Mixed with my innate optimism and natural love of, and fascination with life is a strong grasp of reality, a distaste for denial of life’s trials and tribulations. Sometimes reality can be bittersweet; you try to manage the personal challenges and expectations and move on.
Trite as it might sound, close, well-cultivated connections to family and friends provide a constant and uplifting injection of good health, at least mentally and emotionally. You traffic in happiness and cheer, not gloom and bitterness. As you fill your car with fuel to avoid being empty, you do the same with the energy you feel in family relations and sincere friendship.
Again, at the risk of repeating the words of healthy, accomplished people through the years, another source of sustenance is the art of giving, of donating your personal goodness, be it to friends or strangers. I’m speaking of small things we might do for someone in stress, for someone who is suffering a setback, for someone who might benefit from a simple act of kindness. No credit due or sought.
At age 70, I dearly want to stay vibrant, alert and attentive. I want to contribute to my community in ways that are beneficial for today and tomorrow. I want to help family members confront and overcome challenges. I want to help friends when asked and maybe on my own volition. I want to give something back to the community in which I have lived for nearly 39 years.
We rent our space on earth. We pay back with our sense of responsibility. We hope that selflessness outscores selfishness in the game of life. We hope our objective is doing good work, not personal gain.
Since my retirement 51 months ago, I have observed many friends in their late 70s-to- mid-80s and note how they carry their advanced age with class, style–and youthfulness. They scarcely complain about their ailments, their loss of mobility in some cases and their diminished hearing. They approach life positively, enthusiastically and determinedly.
These friends may not know I’m watching and learning. I admire their mental toughness and emotional stability. I wish I could tell them how much I like and respect them. I’m afraid I would embarrass them.
So, readers, lest you think this newly-minted 70-year-old is long-winded and insensitive to the danger of verbosity, I will close this column. Will write again when I’m older.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.