Paul Simon was right about 70: how strange to become an ‘old friend’
In 1968, Simon & Garfunkel released “Bookends,” their fourth studio album. The album contained such iconic hits as “Mrs. Robinson” and “America.” It also included a poignant Paul Simon tune called “Old Friends.” In it, Simon created a watercolor image of a pair of old men sitting on a park bench like bookends.
“Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly, how terribly strange to be 70,” they sang.
I was just 15, but this short, wistful tune about getting old etched itself into my musical memory bank. Getting old, at that point, was some mystical end point that I could hardly imagine. My grandmother, my only living grandparent, was not even 70 at the time but she seemed ancient, camped in her chair with Lawrence Welk turned on full volume. Old was a foreign land, far, far away.
But last month, when I turned 70, I returned to those lyrics and, indeed, felt terribly strange to have reached this milestone age. There is much to consider upon becoming a septuagenarian, but I decided I could contemplate the implications later. Instead, I donned my sneakers and joined my weekly full-court basketball game. If there had been a crowd, instead of the empty gym in which we play, I imagined a standing ovation when I hit my first post-70 jump shot. I received a couple of meager high-fives from my teammates and then, my numeric age was quickly forgotten.
I realized as I left the gym, sore and sweaty and tired, that nothing much had changed from the week before. A full slate of exercise, from basketball to pickleball to power walks with the dog, have long been a part of my regular routine. Flipping a calendar page from one day to the next was not going to disrupt that. Not if I could help it.
Aging comes with a consistent set of reminders of where we no longer dwell.
As a card-carrying baby boomer, I am fully aware that my entire cohort has either already hit their 70s or are fast approaching. Most of my good friends are past that mark and the discussions about increasing aches, pains and brain farts, about the medications we now require, about the loss of other friends and family members, regularly dominate our conversations. Often, we stop and laugh at ourselves complaining about bursitis in our shoulders, lower back pain and the refusal to acknowledge our hearing loss.
Other than the latest Netflix binges we are streaming, the sober realities of aging seem to enter nearly every dinner conversation or phone call. Aging comes with a consistent set of reminders of where we no longer dwell. One look in the morning mirror confirms our worst fears, for me bringing both horror and laughter.
But there is something else lurking around the edges of aging. The reality that the time left is far less than the time past brings a sense of liberation, a feeling of finally reaching a long-sought destination.
I am letting go of so many anxieties that burdened my life: money worries, career goals unmet, roads never taken. I acknowledge how lucky I am to have my health, my family’s health, a sense of financial security, deep friendships that endure, a life partner whom I cherish. How can I possibly complain about anything?
I always thought to myself how hard it is to be a human being, to just get out of bed in the morning and face the madding crowd. At 70, I’ve not become complacent about the turmoil and trouble brought on by the human species. But I’ve quietly resigned myself to choose fewer battles to fight and acknowledge those things I simply cannot change. It has left me time to breathe.
That might be wisdom or simply exhaustion at tilting at windmills for so many years. My mantra now, with apologies to Satchel Paige, is keep moving, don’t look back, embrace the joy. You never know what is waiting around the next corner.
In fact, 70 isn’t really the new anything. It’s definitely harder to bend over to lace up my sneakers, and I’ve noticed the involuntary grunts I’m emitting when I do so. But when I get to the gym and feel the ball in my hands, time and age evaporates. I look to find the open man.