Recently I was talking after exercise class with a young woman I’d just met. When she mentioned her recent birthday — 40 — I smiled, and commented that I was twice her age.
She was stunned. “What — 80? No way! Impossible!”
Of course I’m happy when I get compliments like that — who wouldn’t be? But I’m also bemused, because now I’ve entered my ninth decade, and there is no refuting that fact.
So what does that really mean? I realize I may not get to be a great-grandmother, though I tease our college student granddaughter about the possibility. A more positive aspect of aging also means I have my recollections from the past, experiences different from those of the younger GenX and millenial generations.
The closest I ever got to a #MeToo moment was a sort-of approach by a senior copywriter at my advertising agency. A newlywed, I was clearly shocked at his advances, stopping this would-be Lothario in his tracks. Nothing further transpired.
I also remember when Republicans were, well, different. I speak as the daughter of a lawyer involved in local Republican politics. I recall Dad going to the 1952 GOP Convention pledged to Eisenhower — and we were delighted when Ike won. Working on Pennsylvania state projects, Dad also worried about the conservative Legislature even then. I often wonder what he would think of the current partisan political situation.
Among my strongest memories are those propelling me forward as the years advance: what I learned from my parents about the importance of using one’s talents to help others as a path toward a fulfilling life. From my mother’s helping organize Philadelphia’s first school-breakfast program to my father’s fundraising efforts for the fledgling state of Israel, I saw them moving beyond their everyday concerns to work for the less fortunate.
Other than some early involvement in school and synagogue toy drives as a child, my sharpest recollection of giving back is the promotion I created for our advertising firm’s pro bono adult literacy campaign. The project was gratifying in many ways, but seeing a newspaper editorial praising this effort for illiterate Philadelphians moved me to tears, coming as it did when my father lay dying in the hospital. It comforted my family at a time of deep grief, and I have warm memories almost 60 years later.
As the years pass, I sense more acutely the importance of working to make a difference. This was brought into sharp focus in November of 2016, when our synagogue’s Repair The World network asked members to join the Thanksgiving collection for local food pantries. Coming so soon after an election when many of us felt powerless, we suddenly had a way to feel empowered. It was a positive step forward, working to move away from our own unsettled feelings to concentrate on those with genuinely difficult lives.
Now I work with my community in different ways: writing, organizing, participating. I gain a real sense of pleasure from these efforts, but I wonder how long I will be able to continue them at this pace. I’d joined marches for more than 30 years, writing newspaper features about them with real satisfaction. I regret not feeling strong enough to take part in the Women’s March and the one for gun control, but I am warmed by the involvement of our daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughters and niece — I am proud of them all. The torch may have been passed, but through them I was there.
Is this the beginning of a new phase of decreased activity in projects I value? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just a simple life adjustment. I refuse to stop being a do-er, but I have to be realistic. As I concentrate on my health and my husband’s, I should still be able to find a way to be part of the endeavors which have always been important — and perhaps are now more than ever.
To paraphrase a verse from Jewish liturgy, I know I cannot finish the work necessary in this increasingly difficult world. But I must remain part of the effort and do whatever I can manage, as long as I possibly can.
Margot Horwitz is a writer and activist in Bryn Mawr