By: Kelly McDonald
I’m standing on the edge of a precipice, looking into its darkness. I can’t clearly see the other side, but I know I must soon begin my expedition through this next abyss of my journey. I’ve successfully traversed earlier ravines, not giving much thought about whether I would climb out of each one. But now, at seventy, the darkness and distance of the traversal facing me feels different. I’m not sure I will prevail through its depth.
Each decade of my life has been a chasm, where I faced the uncertainty of what those next ten years might bring. I’m now approaching the decade of my seventies, perhaps no different from the current one I’m just completing. After all, it's ten more years of living, finding happiness, facing sorrow. But the mortality numbers are against me. For my family of parents and siblings, their average lifespan was 76. I still have one sibling alive, and he is currently at this median familial age. He seems healthy and could surpass his own decade. However, our last sibling died just two weeks before his eightieth birthday.
My wife believes she will outlive me. She regularly asks me to start making a list of login credentials, master passwords, and instructions on how to fix the home Wi-Fi. She is probably correct. She comes from a long line of aged ancestors. Her mother lived into her mid-eighties and her grandmother survived until age 93. Making that list for my wife is a fine idea. However, I haven’t started because I’ve not felt my mortality. But maybe now, at seventy, there’s a good reason to begin.
The Federal Government doesn’t think I will survive much longer. When I turn 72, I need to withdraw Required Minimum Distributions from the tax-deferred savings that I have accumulated. I guess the government understands those mortality numbers. Now that I’m at seventy, it wants some income from me before the funds pass on to my children, tax free.
I focused my early life on decades of preparation, followed by those of production. During these middle years, life progressed, but the landscape looked much the same from one traveled ten-year precipice to the next. We created family with six sons and a daughter, losing one to death along the way. I performed what’s now unthinkable: career entry to exit with just one organization. We morphed from the neighborhood family with all the kids, to the old couple at the end of the street. Now, at seventy, those past decades seem like a blissful dream.
During the decade of my sixties, I started running. I ran several 5K races per year, and a few 10K races throughout that decennium. I even secured 2nd Place in the Men’s 60-64 Division, Utah Valley 10K, when I was in my 64th year. Some months ago, after turning 69, I completed another 5K race. But I was far behind the winners of my age group. The three victors looked like white-haired Olympians as they strove to the podium to receive their medallions. I’ve set myself a goal to run in at least one more 5K race in this new upcoming decade. At seventy, there is just one age group: 70-and-older. I guess they figure by that age we’re all the same—slow.
After I finished my career, in my sixties, I needed a new outlet for my thinking. I returned to the classroom, enrolled in coursework, choosing the humanities and the arts, a different educational experience from the technical and scientific studies of my youth. There’s been no pressure to finish homework, pass tests, or earn a grade. I simply went to class seeking knowledge, dialoguing with faculty and students, the difference between our ages disappearing for them and for me. The running in my sixties has now slowed to a cautious walk, but at seventy, I’ll continue to listen to the lyre of lifelong learning with the few other septuagenarian students at my educational institution.
I’m going to like that title given to the inhabitants of the decade of their seventies—septuagenarians. It sounds noble, like persons who have achieved something grand. I guess we have, by living 69+ years of life. And unless the expected happens, which won’t allow me to continue my journey, I’ll plan, prepare, and perform until my eighties arrive. It’s about time for me to get started traveling through this new precipice of my life.
Very thoughtful. As a fellow soon-to-be septuagenarian I salute your progress and hope that the precipice is kind to all of us.