It was a confluence of events that caused me to zero in on my age. Unusual, because aging  has never concerned me. My philosophy has been that age is just a number and  most times mine is unlisted. However, a Facetime chat with my son,  Jeff,  hit me like a thunderbolt on a clear day. 

“Mom you are having a meaningful birthday in November. What do you want to do?”

“Do? I want to live, Jeff. All birthdays should be meaningful and November is far off.” 

“Geez, Mom, let me rephrase it: How about a” significant birthday.” We need to plan.”  

“Plan? What?”

Jeff called in the big guns. My daughter-in-law Casandra came into view.

 “Luca and Nova (my grandchildren)  are excited to have a  big birthday party for Ammie.”

“Ammie is not excited; let me think about it.”

As we hung up, Jeff looked exasperated; Cassandra, hopeful — and I felt rattled. Not surprisingly,  the next day my son Greg texted to confirm  it was indeed a “significant” birthday. Subsequent conversations with my siblings invariably posed the what-are-we-doing-for-your upcoming-birthday question. 

Poo-pooing the birthday brouhaha was my reaction until I was  required to auto-fill an online form. It required me to scroll down to my year of birth. Good grief! I got a cramp in my pointer finger before my year of birth appeared! Were there any years below mine, I wondered. 

Soon after, my well-meaning friend, Bev, sent  me a photo of my dad and mom taken when they  were decades younger in the photo than I am now!

And the final coup de grâce:  I was scrolling through my phone in my physician’s office and came across an article titled:  “What do older people do to pass the time.” The writer, a 30-something, went on to define old people as those who have reached their seventh or eighth decade of life. No mention of further decades. 

Good Lord, I thought, I don’t really grasp how OLD I am! I mulled over this realization as I drove home. Once at home, my gloominess increased. I searched Spotify for Frank Sinatra’s “Very Good Year” instead of  my usual classic rock.

Misty eyed,  I crooned along with Old Blue Eyes until I got to verse four:  “But now the days are short… I’m in the autumn of the year… I think of my life as vintage wine.”  Unable to sing on, I said aloud, “Holy Moley, am I in the autumn of my life?” 

I was on the  brink of becoming maudlin when my cell phone signaled a text  message.

“Hey, Ceil, are you up for raquet ball tomorrow?”

“Sure!”

Within minutes of receiving the text message I emerged from my dark, crepe-hanger mindset. I took a breath and stepped into the light of day. 

Over the next few days, I began to think about aging and my upcoming birthday in particular. I reasoned that nothing would change except a number. Sure, like most folks who are lucky to reach a certain age,  I’ve known death, devastating grief, and frozen numbness. 

During the dark valleys of my life, I’ll admit, I didn’t keep a stiff upper lip. My default was crying, shouting at the universe, walking the beach until my emotions became manageable. 

On the flip side, I’ve experienced abundant joy—more joy than I could hope for or imagine. There were  innumerable ordinary moments that turned into months, years, and my life thus far. 

Developing a mindset wherein we are grateful for our years, leads to positive aging. We can continue to do the things we love,  perhaps with limitation, but so what? Go with the limitation or  find something new. 

Until  recently,  aging was couched as something to be dreaded. There are numerous authorities  who will  write ad nauseum about what clothing is appropriate for “older woman.” Beauty products sell off the shelf when their claim will make you look 10 years younger. (OK, I tried them!)

However, there  is a secret recipe that can make you look and feel 10 years younger:  Practice being  other-centered. Giving of oneself eradicates self-pity, fear, and anxiety. Rather than living a “What’s- in- it-for-me life, volunteerism can lead to a meaningful life.

The beloved poet Mary Oliver’s poem “The Gardener” has been a guidepost:  

Have I lived enough?

Have I loved enough?

Have I considered Right Action enough, have I come to any conclusion?

Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?

Have I endured loneliness with grace?

When  we ponder Mary Oliver’s words, age will become irrelevant. The important takeaway from this poem is how we live our lives and what kind of legacy we will leave behind.

P.S.  I called my family and told them to throw a celebration complete with rock music. I aim to dance joyfully into the next decade.

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Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.