An 81-year-old man recently received a diploma from a junior college in western China. He worked two decades to receive the degree, and suffered a stroke attributed to his exhaustion from studying for finals. Undeterred, he reportedly has plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree, which he aims to secure within five years. A similar story played out two years ago in Vermont, when a great-grandmother completed her degree decades after she put her education on hold to help her husband run the family business.
Betty White just hosted her “second annual” 90th birthday television special. Monte Kiffin, who turns 73 at the end of the month, just accepted a job as the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. Hugh Hefner just got married to his third wife at the ripe young age of 86.
Thank goodness for the lot of them.
Well into their eligibility for senior discounts, these go-getters prove that age does not have to be a definition. They show that there is plenty of life to be lived for as long as someone is living. They demonstrate that a bucket list is not a puddle to drown in, but a pool to splash in – even if you happen to be wearing a rubber bathing cap decorated with daisies and secured with a chin strap.
Again, thank goodness.
As I lived out my twenties, I was under the adorable impression that I was taking the decade to nail things down for my future. I finished school, got a job, married my boyfriend, had my first child. I was establishing what I considered My Self, performing the meet-cute of my young woman-Real Woman introduction. I believed I was working towards the part of my life when I, savvy professional and balanced working mother, would start Having It All.
I pictured myself finally being able to travel back to Paris. I swore that I would start playing the piano again. I imagined reading my children a bedtime story and then turning to the computer to toil away at my own book. I wondered how many marathons I would run. I considered the just-around-the-riverbend decades to be the time for doing all these exciting things. I mean, look how hard I’d just worked to create a life for myself where there’d be room for my bucket list!
Now in my let’s-call-it-early thirties, I look back at that mindset and consider it both endearing and misguided. Quaint and immature. Understandable and naive.
If anything, life has become more work, not less. Sure, I gave myself a solid foundation, but that does not mean there is any less construction to do. Now I am confronting things like the next phase of my career, the raising of two young children, the sustaining of a marriage, and the payment of a mortgage. The thought of traveling to Paris sends me into a panic about babysitters; the idea of training for a marathon sends me into a cold sweat about finding room in a day where I cannot even go into the bathroom by myself.
Of course, there have been exciting moments and noteworthy thrills. But those big, bucket list type items that I day-dreamed about as soon as Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson jumped out of that plane are being pushed to an ever-distant future. I have caught myself wondering if my life would ever have space for something other than catering to a client or a child. All those languages I was going to learn, that volunteering I was going to do, those sweaters I was going to knit, they all seem like relics from a grown-up fairy tale.
Thanks to octogenarian college graduates and white-haired Emmy winners, though, I am reassured that the clock is not striking midnight on my big plans for myself. If Social Security recipients can still be relevant in football, then I have at least 40 years to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge after the gun goes off at the start of the New York City marathon. If a guy alive during the Great Depression can still be a playboy, surely I have plenty of time to become a writer.
This is all very comforting, and even inspiring. I don’t have to cram all my self-actualization into these years that are busy enough as it is. It is perhaps disappointing that some of the fun stuff may have to wait a bit longer than I had hoped, but it is down right wonderful that waiting is an option.
They say wisdom comes with age. Part of that wisdom may include realizing that excitement, fulfillment and opportunity come with age, too – really old age, even.
Here’s to the vigor of youth not being entirely wasted on the young.
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