Back in the 1960s, Paul Simon penned a song called “Old Friends.” In one line he says, “How terribly strange to be 70.”
I was 21 at the time and 70 seemed strange and terrible indeed.
Now I’m 70 myself.
And I do find it all terribly strange.
Looking for a few kindred spirits to boost my attitude, I turned to “The Oxford Book of Ages,” where famous people get quoted about age.
When she turned 70, Dorothy Parker wrote: “If I had any decency I’d be dead. Most of my friends are.”
Those aren’t exactly words to live by.
More like words to die by.
So I decided to fish the internet and find what other people — especially people of faith — were up to at my age.
Fanny Crosby, the legendary blind hymn writer, was just hitting her stride at age 70. She wrote scores of hymns after 70. She was born in 1820 (the year of Joseph Smith’s First Vision) and died in 1915, when a young Gordon B. Hinckley was heading off to grade school. If I follow her model, I still have a quarter century of productive work ahead of me.
At age 70, Pope John Paul II was traveling so much that young reporters had a hard time keeping up. He was 73 when he came to Denver for World Youth Day and he left me in his wake there. I came back to Utah panting and coughing. At one point in Denver he had two hours to relax and recuperate. He slipped on a pair of Nikes and went hiking through the Rockies.
The Rev. Billy Graham stopped just long enough at age 70 to wave at those he’d left in his dust. He was well past 70 when he preached to 250,000 people in Central Park and was given a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. He found time to pen several books after 70. For the Rev. Graham, age 70 wasn’t a speed bump. It was a catapult.
In the end, as I compared notes with other 70-year-olds I admire, they all seemed to have one thing in common.
They saw age 70 as a time to change gears — not to gear down, mind you, but to put life into overdrive. They didn’t see 70 as a time to scale back. It was a time to take things up a notch.
For such reasons, I especially like a little anecdote penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, America’s spiritual sage.
“We had a judge in Massachusetts who, at 60, proposed to resign, alleging that he perceived a certain decay in his faculties,” Emerson writes. “He was dissuaded by his friends, on account of the public convenience at the time. At 70 it was hinted to him that it was time to retire; but he now replied that he thought his judgment as robust and all his faculties as good as ever they were.”
That seems to be way to hit 70 — not with a sigh but with renewed spunk.
I hope to pull that off.
In other words, if I’m successful, you may be stuck with me on these pages for many moons to come.