In general, I haven’t found that old age is what stops people from living the life of their dreams. It’s the attitude we’re conditioned to acquire that old age gives you an excuse to slow down or give up. Everyone else is giving up at my age, so why shouldn’t I?
Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are.
– Muhammad Ali
But for most people it’s not enough to simply answer the question. You need to witness someone walking the path and leading by example. Someone who is uninhibited by the social conventions of age, who rejects fear and reluctance, and seizes every opportunity.
That person is my mother, appropriately named Daisy, who turns seventy today.
As I write this she’s somewhere between Zurich and Vienna, but it feels like only yesterday that I was 13 years old and she was traveling across Russia for weeks by herself. On other trips she’s traveled to South and Central America, East Asia, Northern Europe, the Middle East, and pretty much everywhere else on earth. She almost exclusively travels alone, unencumbered by travelers who don’t share her curious and fearless approach to embracing other people and cultures.
Everywhere she goes she makes friends, language barrier be damned. I’ve always been a bit jealous of how naturally that comes to her — it’s a gift. When I ask where that came from she describes a childhood in ravaged post-war Germany: hungry, cold, and with few possessions, but remaining hopeful and positive. The mindset of a truly positive person is as unmistakable as it is unstoppable.
Nothing can stop one with the right mental attitude from achieving their goal; nothing on earth can help one with the wrong mental attitude.
– Thomas Jefferson
I grew up wanting for nothing and sometimes I struggle to be half as open and positive as my mother, who grew up in war-torn Prussia without a father. Her brother, who was her guardian, died at 40 of lung cancer shortly after I was born and her companion of 15 years (The Giant) died recently. Both are dearly missed, but life goes on and begs to be seized. And seized it will be.
Seventy years isn’t old unless you let it be. Because of my mother I face my 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s with absolute optimism, knowing that the vibrancy of life increases, not diminishes, in the decades to come. I know it because I’ve seen it.
Happy 70th birthday, I love you!
Photo above taken in December 2012 when my mother took time after sailing the Andaman Sea to meet me in Bangkok for my 31st birthday weekend.