David Finchley is the pen name of fiction writer David Freilich. He has published six books and during the day works as a Consultant Neurologist in private practice. His books are available in hard copy and as e-books.
Turning 70 really pissed me off. I apologise for my choice of language but I could not think of a more polite term to express how I felt.
Forty, 50 and 60 didn’t bother me, not one bit. Seventy did, big time. I tried to work out why and finally came to the conclusion that it was the number itself, 70. I am not a religious person but I did remember a phrase from the Bible, ‘”The days of our years are three score and ten…” That must have been it. Somewhere embedded in my subconscious was that number, 70, the number of years we are allocated to be on this earth.
I wanted to check whether I had remembered the phrase correctly and looked it up on the Internet, the modern version of the Bible. It is Psalm 90:10 and it reads as follows.
“The days of our years are three score and ten and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off and we fly away.”
I had only remembered the first part, hence the 70. I understood the second part, if we were strong enough, presumably meaning healthy enough, we would live another ten years, to 80. But what did the rest mean?
Once again, the Internet came to the rescue and the explanation was no cause for cheer. The extra years, if we managed to live them, are ‘but labour and sorrow,’ in other words, shithouse (again, excuse my language), so much so that we long to escape to death,’ to fly away.’
If I thought I was pissed before, how do you think I felt now?
But wait a moment, I told myself. We don’t live in Biblical times, we live in the modern world with modern medicine that enables us to live longer and healthier lives. What do they say, 70 is the new 50, 80 the new 60 and so on.
Bullshit! (Apologies yet again).
The fact is that after the age of 70, illness and death loom larger with each passing year. Who doesn’t know someone who is seriously ill and others who have died. The odds of dying or becoming very ill shorten every single day. If I was to be completely honest with myself, it is the fear of death that is the main reason that turning 70 really pissed me off.
This is not a new fear, I am sure it is a fear we have always had. It’s just that past the age of 70 that fear becomes more acute and the reality of dying no longer seems far away.
This is all very depressing but it should not be allowed to dominate the years post the age of 70, the phase of life that I would like to call the homestretch. The term comes from horseracing, it is the part of the racecourse between the last turn and the finishing post. It also refers to the final part of an activity, such as “it was a long, tough campaign but we are finally in the homestretch.”
That’s what life is, a long, tough campaign. Life wasn’t meant to be easy is an often quoted saying. And it isn’t. Life is full of trials and tribulations, disappointments, heartache and tragedy, with only a sprinkling of happiness, never enough of that.
But by the age of 70, that is all behind you. Your job or career is over or nearly so. If you’re not in the 40 per cent of divorced couples then you are still married, happily or otherwise. You’ve raised your children and hopefully enjoyed the pleasure of grandchildren. You are either rich or poor or somewhere in between. Nothing much is going to change for you from now on.
You are in the homestretch but unlike in racing or completing a task or activity, reaching the finishing line is not something that you’re anxious to do. You want that finishing line to be as far away as possible.
If the Biblical psalm is correct, then your homestretch amounts to another 10 years. If medical science comes to your aid then it could be longer, much longer. The challenge is how to make the most of that time, however long it turns out to be.
Can I offer some suggestions, only two, really. The first is, “chill out”, as young people are fond of saying. Or, if I can quote from the book by Richard Carlson, “Don’t sweat the small stuff… And it’s all small stuff.” It is a book that tells you how to keep the little things in life from driving you crazy. Strictly speaking that is something we should be doing at all ages but we don’t. We let the little things drive us crazy, time and time again, even though we know they shouldn’t. We fail to put things into perspective. We may have failed when we were younger but now, at this time of our lives, we have to make every effort to succeed. If not now, then when?
The second suggestion is that it is time, at last, to put yourself first. You’ve done the hard yards. You’ve brought up your family, sacrificed for them and often put their needs ahead of yours. I’m not for a moment suggesting that you should no longer be there to give support, emotional, financial, whatever. But by now your kids are in their forties, most likely, way old enough to look after themselves, to make their own decisions and wear the consequences.
You should be concentrating on those things that make you happy, assuming you can still remember what they are.
Husbands and wives should reconnect with each other. You may no longer have the bodies or the physiology of your youth but there are many ways that a loving relationship can still be fulfilling at any age.
Go to good restaurants, drink good wine, enjoy expensive Scotch. Ladies, pamper yourselves- clothes, hair, trips to the spa, whatever it takes. Travel, take a cruise, splurge on business class seats if you can afford them.
I don’t doubt your kids would be horrified to see their inheritance dwindling. I’m not suggesting you spend it all, just enough to make your lives happier, to make the homestretch, however long it lasts, as pleasant as possible.
If you have to go, then go out with a bang!