In 1960, when John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, he adopted “The New Frontier” as his campaign slogan.
Next week, I set foot on my most unanticipated new frontier. I will turn 79, but, as my old college roommate recently reminded me, that means I will be taking my first fledgling steps into my 80th year. Gasp! Cringe! Ugh!
British columnist Katharine Whitehorn, who lived to be 92, about turning 80 said, “Being 80 is the moment of truth. This is the moment when you can no longer think of yourself as ‘promising,’ when you can no longer huffily say ‘elderly’ or use the dread phrase ‘I’m 78 years young.’ You are old.”
An 80-year-old man in this country, according to Social Security Administration, has only a 30% chance of making it to his 90th birthday. The percentage goes up several years if you are woman.
On turning 80, Gloria Steinem said, “Eighty is about mortality, not aging. Or not just aging.”
I have no desire to go on and on. In Greek mythology, Zeus promised Eos any one gift she might desire for Tithonus, her mortal lover. Eos asked that Tithonus might live forever. She failed to ask that he might stay forever young. So Tithonus lived, on and on and on, becoming more and more decrepit. The gift of immortality, of not dying, became a terrible curse.
I don’t want modern medicine to string out my dying process interminably. I’m with Bon Jovi, “I don’t want to live forever.” When I can no longer celebrate sunrises or enjoy our grandchildren or read and write, whenever I cross that line, let this ripe olive drop to the ground, or, as Jane Kenyon titled and ended her finest poem, “let evening come.”