Copyright © 1997 Henrietta W. Hay
Thoughts on Turning Eighty
April 19, 1994
Thoughts on turning eighty.
Things I wish I had done:
- Kept a journal
- Could remember more of the things I would have recorded if I had
kept a journal.
- Been a better daughter, wife, mom, friend.
Things I wish I had not done:
- A lot of stupid things that hurt other people.
- A lot of stupid things that hurt me.
- Forgotten my son's birthday last week. But what the heck. I'm 80
and he understood.
OK, now that's over with. I can't change what is past. Today looks
great and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Aging is different for
everyone, but for me, I don't feel old. I just look old.
I have been thinking about how to write this column for a long time,
trying to figure out just how I got here and what I still have to do.
As my son Dave said in his own special language, "It's interesting to
speculate on the kind of person the kid you knew turned out to be."
One of my friends asked, "What do you see when you look out your
window at 80?" Well, I see a lot of the same things I saw at 20, but
they look different now. The window is much bigger. Many new things
have been added to the view and I can see so much further, and so much
more clearly. The perspective is quite different but it is, of course,
the same window.
At twenty I saw action and passion and excitement. At eighty I see
relationships and warmth and quiet joy, along with the only slightly
mellowed political activism.
I do my traveling with memories in my easy chair now. I can look out
the window and stroll across the wooden bridge over the pond on the C.
U. campus in the moonlight. I can ride the Staten Island Ferry in the
very tip of the prow and bicycle up Wall Street. I can walk the streets
of London and sit on a stone bench in the middle of Old Town in Warsaw.
I can stand in Anne Frank's tiny room in Amsterdam and let the tears
flow for man's inhumanity to man. I can hike through the saguaros and
drive down the beautiful palm lined streets of Phoenix. It's easy and
cheap when I'm 80.
When I was 20 I was a romantic and an idealist. I knew I could change
the world, although I wasn't too sure what needed to be changed.
Sixty years later I know that human evolution is a very slow process and
that a lifetime is a mere blip.
I have been lucky, I know. My blip has been filled with good genes,
good kids, good friends. and lots of adventure and excitement and
laughter. I never burned a bra, but I was in the first wave of the new
feminism and that has been my cause for twenty-five years. I have loved
batting my head against the establishment and still hope to live long
enough to see a woman elected President. Writing has always been a part
of my life, but it is truly the joy of my old age. And am I ever glad
computers were invented. What more could anyone ask.
Eighty is not the time to quit. The window is still wide open. It is
the time to watch the flowers grow and listen to the birds sing. It is
the time to enjoy and laugh at the silly world. It is the time to lie
in bed in the morning while your bones creak and wonder what interesting
thing the day will bring. It is the time to think. It is the time to
hope you have made a difference.
Eighty is a good age to be. I wish I had said this first, but the
philosopher Santanya beat me to it. "Never have I enjoyed youth so
thoroughly as I have in my old age...I have drunk the pleasure of life
more pure, more joyful, than it ever was when mingled with all the
hidden anxieties and little annoyances of actual living. Nothing is
inherently and invincibly young except spirit. And spirit can enter a
human being perhaps better in the quiet of old age and dwell there more
undisturbed than in the turmoil of adventure."