What Matters Most

A 70-Year Old’s View


Can you imagine us, years from today, sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy…

-Lyrics from Old Friends by Simon & Garfunkel-

How times change. Simon and Garfunkel recorded these lyrics nearly half a century ago (1968). And while today, far fewer people may be sitting forlornly on park benches at age 70, reaching this milestone can still feel “terribly strange” — and sound a wake-up call for those of us yet to reach it.

I met a lovely, lively almost 71-year-old artist at the library the other day. Our hour-long conversation ranged across topics from where we’ve both lived (California and back East), to second careers, to our respective fathers’ adoption of computers and the Internet late in life, to how she perceives time now that she’s 70. It was like a crash course in Becoming Ripe.

Although Nina (pronounced with a long “i”) is in good health, teaches art part-time and thrives on seeing her two-year-old and four-year-old grandkids blossom, her words when we discussed books surprised me. She said, “I only want to read the classics now that time is short.” While I admired her dedication to great literature, I was perplexed by the latter part of her statement.

The Possible vs. The Practical

reverse mortgage news“You could live another 25 years!” I exclaimed, expounding on the Third Age that today’s older generation enjoys. And while she acknowledged this as a possibility, she then told me that both her parents had dementia — her mother with early onset at just 59 — and died by their mid-seventies. I asked whether she’d read Still Alice, a fictional account of EOAD (Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease) or watched the movie, but she said no, it hit too close to home. “I might only have four or five good years left,” she quipped. Her words carried a sobering subtext.

This potential reality brought me up short. How much time do we squander, thinking it’s boundless — especially in an era of relentless texting? Certainly most of us have a different perspective by midlife than we did in our twenties, when we’re only looking ahead. If you’re a reverse mortgage professional on the far side of 50, do you have a sense of finitude? If so, imagine how much more pronounced it is for your clients in their seventies, eighties, or nineties.

Yet acceptance of this end game can also laser-focus our purpose and actions. Nina loves her husband, her children and grandchildren, her art classes, her friends, and seemingly everything else about her life now. With minimal reading time available, she chooses to focus on what will enrich her mind and her life. Our brief connection was a clarifying moment for me, as bracing as a deep dive into winter surf.

I came away from our conversation feeling I’d been gifted with a peek into my future. Think about how you spend your time. If some area of your life is not fulfilling, now is an excellent time to change it. You may have decades of life ahead. Why waste any of this precious time on activities that don’t nourish your heart and soul?