Last January, I received an email from Sellers Publishing inviting me to contribute an essay to a forthcoming book called 70 Things to Do When You Turn 70. The royalties, they said, would be donated to nonprofit organizations dedicated to preventing and curing cancer. It would be a follow-up to their book 50 Things to Do When You Turn 50. The series has been very successful, according to the Editor-in-Chief Mark Chimsky, and more than 300 notables have contributed essays, including President Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem, Garrison Keillor, etc.
How could I refuse an invitation like that?
I haven't received my complimentary copy yet, although the book is being published this month, but I thought I'd give "Rolling Crone" readers a sneak preview of the cover and the essay I contributed, which was based on a blog post that I wrote when I turned 70. That was two and a half years ago. So here it is. (Would love to hear from other senior citizens their suggestions for making the most of one's 70s.)
Musing on the Joys of Cronehood
Joan Paulson Gage
When you turn 70, you can't consider yourself middle-aged any more. Let's face it, you're wicked old. Which doesn't sound great, but in ancient times the entry into cronehood, the third period of a woman's life -- after Maiden and Mother -- was feted with ceremonies and rituals, because the crones were revered as wise women who could impart their knowledge to the tribe.
I used to think the best time of life was when children are young and future triumphs are still possible. But now I think that, if you're a woman and lucky enough to remain in good health, your cronehood is the best era, free of the drama, responsibilities, worries, and the insecurities of youth.
When women turn 50, they're likely to give their husbands a big cast-of-thousands celebration and ignore their own birthday. But when they turn 60, many of my friends celebrated themselves with the party or trip they'd always wanted.
At 60 women often channel the creative energy they spent on home, children, and jobs into some long-hidden passion-- designing jewelry, writing a book, gardening, volunteering. They allow themselves to try the things they'd always dreamed of, but never had time to do. A friend of mine went from wife, mother, and chef to law student, then lawyer, then judge, then a state chief justice. After a run-in with cancer, she retired. Now, she's enrolled at Tufts University's Veterinary School so that, at age 70-plus, she can fulfill her childhood dream and become a veterinarian. (And she relaxes with horseback riding and tap dancing!)
I, too, went the "find-your-passion-at-60" route and turned from journalism (although I still do it) to rediscover art, which was my college major. So, 12 years ago, I started taking lessons at the Worcester Art Museum, exhibited in some local shows, and even sold some paintings.
As long as I can get around, I intend to travel to places I've never been, take lots of photographs and turn them into paintings. Just before turning 70, I spent a night on a beach in Nicaragua, watching sea turtles hatch and head to the sea, following our lanterns. For my birthday, I took a culinary tour in Mexico with chef Susana Trilling, and witnessed the migration of millions of Monarch butterflies at the El Rosario sanctuary -- an amazing experience!
Since then, these "bucket list" experiences have been crowding in -- some by design and others by happy accident. But the biggest and best came in 2011, when my first grandchild, a golden-eyed girl named Amalía, entered the world.
Hanging out with her and chasing her around have literally made me feel a decade younger. And no exotic bucket-list experience can compare with seeing the wonder on her face when I show her something for the first time: patting a horse, throwing stones in a lake, putting the angel on the Christmas tree. I'm rediscovering the beauty in everyday things through her eyes.
To see everything as if for the first time -- that's what she's teaching me, and that's what this crone would like to pass on to the next generation.