According to the 2007 Oxford Canadian Dictionary, a senior citizen is “an elderly person, especially a person over 65.” And elderly is defined as “rather old; past middle age.”
By the time this column is published, God willing, I will have crossed from “past middle age” into the freedom-70 category. It’s not easy to admit to this three-score-years-and-ten rite of passage. No less a literary icon than the poet Robert Frost for years listed his birthdate as 1875 instead of 1874, and announced his error when he was in his late seventies. C. P. Snow describes Frost as “being capable of fantastication” in this and other ways when describing his origins.
The round-number years are prone to fantastication. Age 30, when you realize you are not a kid anymore, is vastly different from 29. Some people pick up on a similar chasm between 39 and 40. And 70 seems decidedly older than 69, even if, on the calendar, they are only one day apart.
At these milestones, people tend to ask, “How much time do I have left?” and “What lies ahead?” As the Good Book likes to point out, none of us knows.
We have 15 years between age 70 and age 85, exactly the same number of years as between age 35 and age 50. But unless your name is Biden or Trump, most of us don’t look at it that way.
Following Frost’s lead, let’s fantasticate. Let’s imagine that between “freedom-70” and “senior-senior”, you manage to dodge not only COVID-19 but also heart attack, stroke, cancer, or a crippling fall off a roof. How would you choose to occupy those 131,400 hours, those 7,884,000 minutes?
One temptation is to do nothing, although doing nothing is remarkably difficult, unless you are a hermit. For the rest of us, if spouses or partners, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbours, relatives or volunteer organizations have anything to say about it, doing nothing will soon transform into doing something.
Doing something could entail golf lessons, travel, childcare for your grandchildren, part-time work, religions, spirituality, a musical instrument, volunteer work, the World Series of Poker, writing the great Canadian novel, learning a new language, the honey-do list, and other lists that go on and on.
You know how in the good old US of A, there’s all this talk about Americans overcoming the great political divide? And in Canada (gag me with a spoon), we keep saying, “We’re all in this together?” Hold your nose. A centre-right Canadian is about to quote Karl Marx from The German Ideology: “communist society … makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”
Boy, was old Karl wrong with his idea of the state withering away. And vegan lefties can’t be enamoured with all his references to hunting and fishing and rearing cattle. But in other ways, he nailed it for seniors. Freed from the workaday chains, healthy seniors can enjoy variety every day, although Marx should have added “followed by a nap” to “fish in the afternoon.” And “rear cattle in the evening” tells us he didn’t know a lot about cattle.
Another example from the realm of philosophy. In 1964 at the age of 92, Bertrand Russell wrote The Duty of a Philosopher in This Age and in 1964, aged 94, he founded a War Crimes Tribunal. Not bad for someone rather old, past middle age, “doing one thing today and another tomorrow.”