I’m turning 70 this week — yes, 70 years old — and that milestone, combined with the natural period of reflection that I always observe around the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, has reminded me of just how truly blessed has been my life, how very lucky I am to have gotten to this point. Many of my childhood friends didn’t make it into their twenties, my birth mother as well as my two closest friends didn’t make it to 40 (including my so talented and full of life cousin Ronni), and the number of people I’ve loved who are no longer with me just keeps growing. Losing my Uncle Paul Bloom earlier this year, just after his 99th birthday, meant there is no longer an older generation in my family. Now, I am it.
My body doesn’t work as well as it once did (if you’ve seen me scootering past you at a major conference, then you know that I have some mobility challenges, but then most of you didn’t know me during my llambada-enriched, sailing the Caribbean prime so as to have a proper basis for comparison), my dental repair bills are stratospheric, and I have macular degeneration (but thankfully with no visible impairment as yet) — and that’s just for starters. Believe me when I tell you that even if you escape truly life-threatening diseases and accidents, aging brings with it a shitload of minor medical issues. From revolting skin barnacles and easier/constant bruising (particularly true for older men) on your arms to challenging changes in your digestion and the increased time it takes for anything to heal, these are annoyances for which none of us are prepared. When I think of how lightly I used to travel compared to all the crap that’s now needed to keep me on the move, I am very thankful that my status with most airlines means that I don’t have to pay for checked bags.
But this post is not a lament on aging or my distant youth. Rather it is a celebration of a life well-lived, of my life thus far and of the life that’s in front of me. While so many of my friends and family never made it to 70, I’m still here. I’ve survived. More than just survived, I’ve flourished and prospered and had a truly wonderful time. And, in my own way, I’ve made an effort to improve the world around me. Sometimes that’s been related to my professional life, as in trying to save the world from crappy enterprise HRM software and equally crappy HRM practices/policies/plan designs/etc. by helping to design and deliver better software and better HRM. Sometime that’s been related to my personal life, as in making philanthropy central to our budget, both of time/energy and of financial resources. Sometimes it’s all about lending a helping hand, reaching out to comfort, being there even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient or you really don’t know what to say or do. And sometimes it’s about pushing and pushing and pushing because there’s a wrong that really needs righting.
I haven’t accomplished anything monumental in my life thus far, and it’s unlikely that I’m going to do so. But I’d like to think that a little bit of good done here and a little more done there adds up to what we’re commanded as Jews (but I really think this applies to everyone) to do in the words tikkun olam, literally to fix the world. But there’s so much to fix (more now than at any time in my lengthening life) that I often feel overwhelmed at where to begin, not to mention that there’s never time to keep my closets organized and my books alphabetized, to select cards and gifts for every occasion while changing our home’s décor with the seasons, or to master any of the topics/authors/etc. about which I’d love to be more knowledgeable. But the important thing about turning 70 is that it’s time to make peace, if you’re ever going to do so, with the fact that you’ll never be able to do everything you’d like to do. It’s truly time to refine ruthlessly your priorities.
Ron and I spent the last few weeks in England, and I spent a good bit of quiet time staring out to sea and noodling on those priorities. Where on this earth do we want to travel? With whom among our friends and families do we want to spend time? What old friend books and what new ones do I want to read? Do I really want to make time to improve my Spanish, sketching, marine navigation, and so many other skills? And what about boating, theater, music, museums, and just lolling in our pool? Then there’s the remodeling project from hell that’s consumed far too much of the last 18 months because of truly awful execution by the firm we’re in the midst of firing (but which still must be made to finish work that can’t be picked up by someone else, like pulled apart furniture awaiting reupholstery). What about my work with The Florida Repertory Theater (on whose Board I’ve sat for 10+ years and which is a nationally rated professional regional theater) or with a half dozen other local organizations which I support personally as well as financially? And all of that is apart from my continued efforts in #EnSW.
Doesn’t it feel like a little priority refinement is in order? Don’t we all know that if everything is important than nothing is? Well, I don’t have any great insights on how to handle all of this, but I can tell you from the vantage point of having lived large these almost 70 years that setting life priorities does not get any easier unless you choose to withdraw from life — and that’s not going to happen here. But the only real insight I’ve achieved about all of this is that, if you’re inclined to be a neurotic overachiever, that doesn’t change just because your joints are screaming and your hairdresser has to work harder at covering the grey. Au contraire. Those habits of a lifetime define not only how we live but also how we age. And for me, although the todo list has evolved and my priorities have changed, and while I’ve had to make a range of changes in everyday living to accommodate the physical changes of aging, it appears that I’m not likely to slip quietly into a bingo game-laden, early bird special dining, daytime television-watching style of aging. Not while I’m still sentient.
So watch out world. Naomi at 70 could be even more trouble — and having more fun — than Naomi at 50 or 40 or 30. And that’s the point.