The Big Seven-Oh

Turning seventy is like going off the high-dive for the first time.

I mean…you just didn’t get there all of a sudden. Know what I mean? When you were a kid and you stood there poolside staring up at that towering diving board for the first time, there came a vague realization. But it came and went. You may have thought about climbing up there with the older kids and taking the leap, but you didn’t. It was a process of graduating steps.

Take that period when you first turned fifty. Nowadays fifty isn’t necessarily all that old, but it is comparable to that time when you first walked to the bottom of the ladder and stood staring up at that diving board, a stark chrome and blue contraption, silhouetted against the cobalt sky of summer. Quickly, you avert your eyes to the other kids splashing, sunning and enjoying the glittering waters of the pool. You draw a deep breath, inhaling the clashing odors of chlorine and cocoa suntan oil before regaining your senses and scurrying to the concession stand for a cold cup of Dr. Pepper.

Then come your sixties. Yup. You’ve again wandered over to the base of the ladder and now you’re actually gripping the shiny chrome rails as you stare up at the line of kids clinging to the ladder above. This time is different. The ladder beckons and you have no choice but to begin climbing. The amazing thing about your sixties is how fast that line of kids quickly slides upward and you suddenly find yourself out there on the board. From the vantage point of the high-dive, you look down on the sun-soaked glistening bodies of the girls lying on their towels far below. You are also now looking down at the lifeguard lounging in his lookout chair, and you can see the pipes and vents on the roof of the pool house below. This new perspective reveals things you have never before noticed. Yet there is more.

As you edge your way out to the end of the board your senses have suddenly become keenly focused and you can see the distant golf course with its emerald greens and duffers in colorful shirts and trousers. The shafts of their clubs glint in the sunlight, and the water tower out there on the horizon no longer seems so tall, because you are now looking across at it. The colors, the odors, the balmy breeze, all have become more intense. And you take a quick glance down at the sun rippled blue waters far below, their beauty doing little to disguise the landing pad that you know must be more like concrete than water.

“Hurry up!” some kid shouts, and that’s the moment when you realize you really have no choice. It’s time to face it. You flex your knees slightly and give a little bounce as you test the board. Quickly you regain your balance and wait for the board to stop quivering, but that’s when you see the big “seven-oh” staring you in the face. Your sixties are gone and it’s time. You must jump.

Today, I am there. I turned 70. I have leapt from the high-dive into the deep end of old age. Like Slim Pickens’ character Major T. J. Kong in the movie Doctor Strangelove, I am riding the nuclear bomb from the belly of a B-52 shouting “Yaaaaahooooo!” And speaking of “strange,” I feel as if I’ve been in this dive since I was eighteen when the army first gave me an M-16 and a parachute. And as it was that first time when you dove from the high board and hit the water, you realize that it’s really not so bad after all.

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