On a baby boomer turning age 70

We all get older. What we don’t all do is stress about it. But many do, particularly on the milestone birthdays where the new age has a “0” at the end of it. So how did communications specialist Larry Checco of Silver Spring, Maryland, handle his most recent “big one?” Let him tell you.

Turning 50 for me was no big deal; a hop, skip, and a jump into a slightly older middle age.

Reaching 60 was a minor hurdle, with a bit more thought given to aging.

But septuagenarian? Well, let’s just say it was a mental pole vault — with the hope for a soft landing.

As Paul Simon sang, “Strange to be 70.”

It’s finally sinking in that this journey is not going to last forever.

So several months before my actual birth date, knowing how I was feeling, my very, very understanding wife, knowing my penchant for wanderlust, asked, “So, what are you going to do?”

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“For turning 70. What are you going to do? You’ve got to do something special.”

So a week later I borrowed from a life insurance policy my folks had taken out on me when I was 18 and booked a two-week trip to China. It felt remotely — emphasis on remotely — similar to when I was 24, sold all my worldly possessions (totaling $1,400), and spent the next two-and-a half years working my way around the world.

Why China? Because I’d never been there and have always wanted to go.

Larry on the right with his tour group.

The tour I signed up for included a few days in modern-day Shanghai; a four-day cruise up the Yangtze River; a visit to the millennia-old terra cotta warriors in Xian; climbing the Great Wall; touring Tiananmen Square, the Imperil Palace, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and more.

But after just a few days, what came screaming home to me — as it did all those years ago when I traveled about as a young man — was this: it’s not about the places; it’s always about the people.

Our Chinese guide, Jessica, and the 20 other people in our group were terrific. Everyone got along, no arguments, no one was ever late for a group event, no one got sick, no lost bags. And we all shared lots of laughs.

Beyond that, many of the Chinese people we came in contact with, no matter where we were, were more than friendly. They especially enjoyed taking pictures with us.

Surprisingly, it seemed we were as much a curiosity to them as they were to us, with their hard-to-understand language, cultural and religious icons, foods (including live scorpions slithering on skewers, subsequently fried after purchase), and seemingly suicidal city traffic patterns.

When language was a barrier, we hand-signaled our joy in meeting one another. When language wasn’t an obstacle, it was obvious that their concerns were the same as ours.

All crazy world politics aside, they want the same for their families as we do for ours: security, education, the chance to get ahead and live decent, satisfying lives.

The entire trip was what I refer to as a SMOJ — a spontaneous moment of joy. And a sharp reminder of just how important people are to our well-being.

A few weeks after I returned home, my wife and I hosted a BBQ to which nearly 60 of our closest friends and family came — from a high school classmate to new best friends I made during the China tour, and lots of folks I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege of being friends with during the intervening years. .

Heck, I never made a lot of money during my working years. But if the number of very good people who have crossed my path in the past 70 years are a measure of my wealth, I’m a very rich— and lucky — man.

Bring 80 on!

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12 Comments

    1. How old were we when we were living by the ocean in Bronte Beach, Australia, Steve? I think I was 25. Working hard to still be healthy and strong at 80+. Hope to meet up with you again before this journey ends. And I’m with you on Trump.

  1. For me turning 70 was especially hard since I had just lost my father (at 100) just weeks before. The confluence of the events also made me realize, as you said, “It’s finally sinking in that this journey is not going to last forever.” Congratulations on figuring out what brings you joy and going for it.

    1. My condolences on the loss of your dad, Lucy. Regardless of how old they are–my folks were both in their 90s–it hurts. Best thing to do is to identify and enjoy as many SMOJs as you can. It helps ease the pain.

  2. It does seem that 70 was a milestone birthday….I had thought it was because the “7” is a “sharp” angled number, unlike turning 60 which was all “curves.” But I too, (wonder how many other of our classmates feel the same) made some big changes as the 7-0 approached. My mom, 92 passed away last year. She was angry that she did not make it to 98 like her mom…or 93 like Uncle Gene did….she forgot that she probably inherited her dad’s bad heart, Poppy dying in his mid-50s. But having the primary responsibility for her care and legal matters, I realized that with my personal health history it would be a stretch for me to reach 92. Besides that was only 22 years away! So I did what I always wanted to do for the last 40 years – bought a cabin in the Berkshires in Western MA. In a small town of less than 400, with currently no cell service, no broadband (although the poles are coming in sometime this year), no stores, no restaurants, and no gas stations. No TV, and a radio I often turn off without listening to the day’s news. Just a lake, hiking trails, deer, more birds than I can identify, rascally raccoons, and a scary bear pounding on my metal bulkhead door! My SMOJs come every clear night when I gaze at stars I forgot existed, or rock on the porch listening to the birds or as my much younger husband says “it smells clean here.” I go to bed early, read more, play board and card games, do art work. When the snow flies I’ll head back to the SW desert to my “other house”, but I suspect that more and more time will be spent doing what I have wanted to do for so long….and eventually make a permanent move to Western MA.

    1. As always, Susan, thanks for reading my stuff and for your always thoughtful comments. It sounds like your cabin in the woods offers lots of opportunities for SMOJs. Take advantage of them all!

  3. Happy Birthday Larry,

    Usually about a year before one of my “big birthdays” I start thinking of myself as a year older, it helps to soften the experience. I have also been trying to whittle down the list of places I always wanted to visit and things I always wanted to do. I want to make sure that I have no, or few, regrets as I leave this world on what is yet to be done; although I hope to keep adding new experiences to my list.

    Wishing you many more SMOJ!

    1. Life is nothing if not swift and ethereal, Silvia Let’s keep checking things off our bucket list while we can.

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